Raised Evangelical: Angie’s Story

A post in the Raised Evangelical series.

Section 1: Introductory Questions

Question 1: Please introduce yourself before we get started, providing a brief snapshot of your background an overview of your beliefs today.

I am Angie, a 24-year-old recent college graduate who is married. When I was around 5 years old my mom and dad became involved in the Church of God denomination; they became more and more involved as I grew up and my father served as youth pastor to our church during my teen years. I grew away from my parents’ beliefs in college and am now an atheist.

Question 2: How did your family and religious community self identify? As evangelicals? As fundamentalists? Or as something else? What did these terms mean to your parents and religious community?

My parents considered themselves “Pentecostal holiness,” which I now interpret to be part of the fundamentalist movement because if it’s focus on “old-fashioned values” and gender standards from an older time. My parents considered Pentecostal to refer to speaking in tongues and being compelled bodily to dance, run and shout when under influence from the holy spirit, or holy ghost as they called it often. The holiness bit referred to appearing separate from the rest of the world, in speech, action and mostly appearance. This is where the focus on modest clothing and men dressing as men and women dressing as women came in.

Question 3: How did your parents become evangelicals or fundamentalists? Did they grow up in evangelical or fundamentalist families, or did they convert later?

My parents converted in their mid-twenties because one of my uncles had already converted and was a preacher. My father converted specifically when he had survived a hospital visit that he considered particularly frightening for treatment for kidney stones.

Section 2: Theology

Question 1: Briefly describe the church your family attended while you were growing up. What role did the pastor play? How large was it? What sort of programs did it offer? What denomination was it? How many times a week did you attend church? How about Bible study or Bible club?

The church we went to was part of the Church of God denomination and had about 100 people in attendance regularly with about half of the members being over fifty. The pastor was a very respected figure and gave sermons 90% of the time with the rest being other members of the congregation and special visitors. There weren’t many programs offered except age-divided classes for young people. Services were held twice on Sunday and once Wednesday nights.

Question 2: When and how were you “saved”? How did your parents and church community respond? Did you have a “relationship with Jesus”? If so, at what age did you form this relationship? Please describe what all it entailed. Or, if you attended a church that was more liturgical and did not emphasize the specific moment of salvation or having a personal relationship with Jesus, what were considered to be most important milestones of a religious upbringing (i.e. confirmation, etc.) and how did you experience them?

I had a difficult time accepting the concept of salvation, and experienced no insignificant amount of stress over whether or not I was saved. As a child I literally couldn’t sleep at night because I would be asking god to forgive me over and over again in case I had sinned. Eventually I became more secure in my salvation around the age of 13 and my family was very happy, both because they were less worried about my soul and because the nighttime problems lessened.  The stress continued over whether or not I was sinning, but I at least had some stability then. There was definitely a focus on the moment of salvation, and after that one was expected to work towards “sanctification.” This was an acceptance of holiness in one’s life where vices were given up and commitments were made. These commitments ranged from women vowing to always wear skirts and dresses to promising to never drink soda again. The purpose of this was to prepare one for the holy ghost and “baptismal in the holy ghost” which speaking in tongues was the evidence of. I never made it that far, something kept me from being able to speak in tongues.

Question 3: How did your family and church view the Bible, and what role did it play in your life growing up and in the life of your family and church? How often did you, your siblings, and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?

The Bible was viewed as entirely perfect, non-contradictory and literal. We were encouraged to read it daily, and for most of my teenage years I did just that. There was definite guidance in interpretation from sermons, youth group classes, and one-on-one when I had a question about a passage.

Question 4: What role did race play in your church? Were there any black or Hispanic families? Were they treated differently?

No, aside from one foster child the entire church was white.

Section 3: Gender and Family

Question 1: What did your church teach about gender roles, the family, and marriage?

Gender roles were emphasized with clothing, men wore pants, women wore dresses or skirts. Activities were not governed as harshly though, they thought it was fine for a woman to have a farm or to do manual labor, just not to dress like a man. In the family, the man was unquestionably the leader and the final say in any situation. Marriage was to be defended against divorce and the gays and ideally be between two virgins with the consent of both sets of parents.

Question 2: Describe your parents’ marriage. Was it complementarian (i.e. “soft” patriarchy), or more openly patriarchal, or in practice egalitarian? Did your family or church use any of these terms?

My church didn’t use terms like this, only taught that the man was the head of the family. In practice though, there were certainly families where the woman was more authoritarian than the man. This was not the case in my family, it was more that my father acted as if he was in complete control but my mother, my brothers and I more placated him with obedience and hid things from him that would displease him.

Question 3: In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?

The differences were often more in clothing than anything else. Boys and girls in youth group were both allowed to participate in backyard football, as long as the girls were in skirts and the boys in pants. This extended to extreme circumstances, such as beach and lake trips with the youth group. We were quite a sight, a bunch of teenagers playing at the beach fully clothed.

Question 4: In what ways were boys and girls in your family raised differently vocationally? Were the girls expected to be stay at home mothers or to hold jobs? Did your mother work, and if so, how was that viewed by your family and church?

My church was very practical in this matter, few families could afford to live off of one income so nobody thought twice about both parents working.

Section 4: Education

Question 1: What sort of education did you have: public school, Christian school, or homeschool? What reasons did your parents give for choosing the method of education for you that they chose?

Public school, they would have preferred homeschooling but couldn’t afford it. They did consider private Christian schools, but in my county private schools were not prestigious or high quality, more for kids who got kicked out of public school and people too afraid to subject their kids to the secular world.

Question 2: Briefly describe the academic aspect of your educational experience (public school, Christian school, or homeschool), focusing on the role played by religion. If you were public schooled, did your parents try to counteract anything you were learning at school with different teachings at home (i.e. sex education, evolution)? Or, did the public schools in your area find ways to include things like creationism or abstinence only sex education?

My mother refused to let me attend sex education the first two years it was offered because she “didn’t want anyone teaching me how to get pregnant.” They tried hard to counteract the teaching of evolution, subscribing to Creation Magazine and buying me many books about creationism since I had a strong interest in science and especially dinosaurs. Oddly enough my belief in creationism was the first thing to go.

Question 3: Briefly describe the social aspect of your upbringing, especially as influenced by religion. How did your educational experience (public school, Christian school, or homeschool) affect your socialization? Was your friend group religiously diverse or more homogeneous? If you were public schooled, did your religious background cause you any social problems in school?

I was a social wreck at school (public), wearing only skirts and dresses did not suit my tomboy nature and lead to me having absolutely zero self-confidence. In addition I screened all potential friends against my religious standards and not surprisingly, few people passed far enough for me to accept them. It was only in college that I began to learn to make friends and be social.

Question 4: Did you attended Sunday school, youth group, Bible club, or church camp? Please describe your experiences.

I went to Sunday school and Wednesday night youth group services. My father taught Wednesday’s because he was the youth pastor and because of this I was expected to be a model for the other kids more so than I would have been otherwise. They were not bad experiences, definitely more enjoyable than services with the larger congregation, and thus contributed to most of my indoctrination because they were much more palatable. Wednesdays consisted of a short socializing time, usually a metaphorical game of some sort followed by an explanatory serious talk by my father. Things were always wrapped up with prayer that usually asked for participation. A common ending was everyone bowing their heads (except my father) him giving an alter-call like speech, then asking all who were certain they were saved to raise their hands. This would be followed a request for those who were not certain being asked to raise their hands if they wanted to be saved. Then my father would instruct them on how before ending the prayer and the class.

Section 5: Purity

Question 1: What were you taught about physical and emotional purity, and also about modesty? What did your family believe about dating and/or courtship? How was sex education handled?

Dating was seen as perfectly okay, I wasn’t introduced to the concept of emotional purity, only physical. My parents never broached sex education, I guess they figured I didn’t need to know until I got married and then I’d just figure it out.

Question 2: How did the things you were taught about purity, modesty, and dating/courtship work out for you in practice? Did you date, and at what age? Did you have sex before marriage, and if you did, did you experience guilt? In essence, explain how belief met practice and with what results.

I didn’t date until college, but mostly because I was shy and because my father was opposed to me dating. He never said no, but I knew he didn’t approve so I didn’t try too hard to find a boyfriend. I had my first boyfriend at 18 and ended up having sex with him 6 months into our relationship. I was already questioning my beliefs at the time and that was just another step in the breakdown of me being Christian. I didn’t feel guilty about the sex itself, but in the months previous to it I felt very guilty about the other sexual activities we engaged in. Other than that I didn’t experience a lot of stress over the event.

Question 3: How do you feel about your family and church’s purity, modesty, and dating/courtship teachings today? Do you think there are any parts of these teachings that still have value? How do you plan to handle these issues with your own children?

I think the teachings of my church were totally unrealistic, and lead people to make the decision to get married too early in order to have sex and it not be sinful. I feel like that teaching ruined life for several of the people I grew up with because they married people they weren’t actually compatible with. I get that they wanted people to be careful about sex, but their version of careful went too far and lead people to make bad decisions. I’ll teach my children to be careful about sex, and be sure they’re waiting until the right time with the right person, but not necessarily until marriage.

Question 4: Do you feel that the purity, modesty, and dating/courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how? What do you feel is the most detrimental effect of purity teachings?

The worse is how modest affected me. I still have trouble wearing what I want to wear because I was taught to be overly conscious of what people thought of how I looked. We had to look holy, pure, and make sure we weren’t tempting anyone with how we looked. I can’t let go of this, and have trouble wearing clothing that is feminine even now. Even when I don’t dress in a way that is “sexy” I still think way too much about what I’m wearing and whether or not anyone will have a problem with it.

Section 6: Politics

Question 1: In his book Broken Words, Jonathan Dudley argues that a fourfold opposition to abortion, homosexuality, evolution, and environmentalism constitute the markers of evangelical tribal identity. What role did opposition to these four issues in your fundamentalist or evangelical upbringing, and would you agree with Dudley?

Aside from environmentalism I would say this was true for the community; nobody ever came out and said that belief in all four was critical, it was more that they were discussed individually in a very serious manner.

Question 2: What role did you, your family, or your church community believe Christians should play in politics? What did your family or church hold was the end goal of Christians’ involvement in politics? What were your family and church community’s beliefs about the end times, and how (if any) did these beliefs affect their view of Christians’ role in politics?

My pastor took special care not to mention any names when it came time for elections, he trusted that “each person would follow god’s will.” Voting was expected, but not really because of a Christian status, more because it was cultural value that in order to be able to state an opinion about politics one should vote. They believed the end times were very very near, as in the rapture (bodily removal of Christians from Earth by God before the end times/tribulation) could happen at any point in time. This didn’t influence votes as much as it gave them comfort when things didn’t go the way they had hoped in an election. An undesired result was chalked up to the end times being near.

Question 3: Were you, your family, or your church community involved in politics? What all did this involvement include? Did your pastor ever preach a political view from the pulpit? Did you ever picket an abortion clinic, attend a “defense of marriage” rally, or participate in any related activities? Describe your experiences.

My church wasn’t involved in political activities at all. The most that would happen would be a sermon about following god’s will in an upcoming election.

Question 4: What political issues did you, your parents, and/or your church community see as most important in deciding who to vote for and why?

Whether or not the candidate professed openly to be a protestant Christian was the biggest factor, and the more vocal about it the better. Stances on gay marriage were important as well. Another big issue was where a candidate stood on policy towards Israel; unconditional support was believed to cause god to give favor to America.

Section 7: Questioning

Question 1: In what ways did the culture of your family and church differ from “mainstream” American culture? To what extent were you integrated into or isolated from “mainstream” American culture? To what extend do you feel that evangelicalism creates a sort of self-contained culture of its own, with Christian bookstores, Christian music, etc.?

We differed by how we dressed, what we were allowed to read, what we watched and the music we listened to. I was unfamiliar with all music outside of contemporary Christian and didn’t read Harry Potter until I went to college because it was “witchcraft.” I would agree that they created a self-contained culture, they wanted to, wanted something separate from the rest of the world because they believed it would keep us all safe.

Question 2: What first made you question evangelicalism/fundamentalism? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?

I questioned before I became officially “saved” and it was terrifying. I was scared to the point of insomnia that I would die and go to hell because I couldn’t have faith that my parents’ beliefs were true. Eventually I was at peace with them but that period of time was very unpleasant. The questioning when I went to college was much more productive, scary and disruptive, but it resulted in growth and positivity in the end.

Question 3: What did you struggle with most when you were in the midst of questioning and leaving evangelicalism/fundamentalism? What was the hardest part?

The hardest part was and still is the desire to throw myself into the hands of someone else. There was something so comforting about believing you had placed all of your being in the care of someone greater. When I stopped believing that something greater cared or was even there I felt very alone for a while. I still feel lonely from time to time, but I view it more as a part of growing up intellectually, just as we learn to live without our parents when we become adults.

Question 4: Among those you grew up around who were also raised evangelical/fundamentalist, what proportion still hold those beliefs and what proportion have also left them?

I’m not entirely sure, I don’t speak with them any more. From those I do know, I’d say about 1/4 left fundamentalism for more mainstream Christianity and only I left Christianity all together.

Section 8: Relating to Family

Question 1: How did your parents and siblings respond to you questioning/rejecting evangelicalism/fundamentalism? How did the friends you grew up with respond?

My family was rocked by the news of my deconversion. My mother was very sad, but still cared enough for me to tell me she loved me regardless. My father responded by sending me a series of aggressive emails with Bible verses and claims that the devil had subverted my mind and I had to be under control of a demon to say the things I did. I was no longer in contact with most of my friends from childhood, but the one I did speak with had also left fundamentalism and was happy I had as well.

Question 2: Now that you’ve questioned and left evangelicalism/fundamentalism, what is your relationship with your parents and siblings like today? What is your relationship with the friends you grew up with like?

My mother and I are still close, and my brothers are cool with me, but things are still very tense between my father and I. We avoid religious topics all together except for when they try to guilt me into going to church on holidays or when my brother is participating in the service. I don’t talk to any of the people I grew up with anymore, I suppose partly because I know they wouldn’t accept me any more.

Question 3: For those who are no longer Christian, are you “out” to your parents or siblings or friends from growing up? If so, how did you do it and how did they respond?

Only “out” to my parents; I did it the worst way possible, through an email. I couldn’t face my parents in person and tell them, my father had a history of blowing up when he was given news he didn’t like and I just couldn’t take that at the time. My mother responded with love, my father with anger and claims I was possessed by demons.

Question 4: Have any of the rest of your family, including parents and siblings, left evangelicalism or fundamentalism? How do you approach the relationships with those who have not?

One of my closest aunts has left fundamentalism, but the rest are still in it. I interact with them in a segmented way, carefully steering away from topics I know would lead to religious discussion. I hide parts of my life from them, my father still doesn’t know I have a large back tattoo because I am seriously afraid he would disown me if he knew. He and I are not close, and I have no hope we will reconcile.

Section 9: Coping

Question 1: Does having being raised evangelical or fundamentalist has made you feel “different” from the rest of society, or like you stick out or don’t fit in in some way? Explain.

It has made me very self-conscious. Growing up with the mindset that you must be different from the rest of the world makes you notice how you appear to people far too much. It’s worse now than it was when I believed because now I notice and am embarrassed that I am different and there’s no favor of a god to justify the separation I feel.

Question 2: What do you think is the biggest way being raised in an evangelical or fundamentalist family and church community has influenced who you are today?

I think it has made me a less confident person, always making me feel different from those around me, I really do just want to be normal, but that’s not possible for me.

Question 3: How did you perceive your childhood and evangelical or fundamentalist religious upbringing at the time compared to how do you see it now?

I thought myself so lucky to be one of the few doing things the right way, the way god really wanted. Now I think of myself then as deceived and taken advantage of because of the indoctrination that I went through. I am still a very bitter person when it comes to these memories.

Question 4: What do you think were the most beneficial things about being raised fundamentalist or evangelical? What were the most problematic things?

There as a definite in-group feeling, something that made me feel secure at times, like I really belonged. The problem was when I was outside of that group and felt like I stood out as much as possible.

Raised Evangelical

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://TheBereanObserver Bob Wheeler

    It sound to me, judging from Angie’s experience and those of others who have commented on this blog, including perhaps even Libby Anne herself, is that what we are dealing with here is a failure to understand the gospel, which probably reflects a failure on the part of the church to explain it very clearly. In other words, I think that Angie was probably in the same position as was Martin Luther BEFORE he was saved, and was struggling with exactly the same problem that he was.
    The critical point here is “justification by faith.” “Justification” is a kind of legal transaction. It means taking away your guilty status before God and declaring you to be a righteous person. The way this happens is through a process called “double imputation.” On the one hand our guilt (our actual, objective guilt) is transferred to Christ, Who atoned for it by dying on the cross. At the same time His righteousness is transferred to our account, so that in the sight of God we are counted as being just as righteous as Christ Himself is. As a matter of our legal status before God, He no longer sees our guilt but Christ’s righteousness.
    We receive justification through faith, which is an act of the will in which we consciously put our trust in Him as our Savior.
    Sometimes skeptics ask, why does God require a blood sacrifice to atone for sin? Why can’t He just forgive us, the way we forgive our children? Part of the reason is that if He simply overlooked sin He would become complicit in it. He is the kind indulgent Father who looks the other way while we beat up on each other. Does anyone seriously think that God welcomed Hitler and Stalin into heaven because He realizes that , hey, boys will be boys? Of course not. How then, can God forgive sin without condoning it? The answer is, by atoning for it. In this way His perfect justice is served, while at the same time it is possible for Him to forgive our sins.
    Once a guilty sinner grasps this, and genuinely embraces Christ as His Savior from the heart, he feels an immediately emotional release. His sins have been buried in the deepest sea, and he has found joy at last!
    A parent, of course, can teach his children what they ought to think, but only God can reveal Himself to the child and change his heart. Most young people growing up in Christian homes have a second-hand faith. They know what they’re supposed to believe, and might sincerely want to believe it. But the time will eventually come, in late teens or early adulthood, when they will begin to think for themselves an ask some basic questions about whether or not it is all true. If they are the typical products of a religious upbringing, they may be experiencing an inner tension between their desire to be free and their inward sense of guilt. That tension will eventually be resolved in one of two ways: either the person will come to but his trust in Christ with a genuine, saving faith, and enter into a real relationship with God, or he will convince himself that it is all false and throw the whole thing overboard. The latter course of action is an unspeakable tragedy.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Bob, you are completely negating Angie’s experiences. She talks of honest questions, of trying her best to believe but not being able to get through the doubts, and yet you glibly declare that she didn’t…what, try hard enough? Do you not realize how offensive that comes across? That is not okay.

      Second, my comment policy explicitly states no proselytizing, and I’m having a hard time telling the above from proselytizing. You are using my blog as a platform for Jesus Loves You 101. This post is an individual’s story of her upbringing, her questions, and her journey, not an invitation for you to explain Where She Went Wrong. You have your own blog for that. If you post a theological treatise like this again, I will delete it. You can write a refutation on your own blog and then come back here and post a link, but my blog isn’t the place for your accusations or attacks.

      Third, you are making snap judgments about me that are patently false. Have you even read my deconversion story, or about why I am an atheist? You can find both here. Read this while you’re at it. Don’t speak again on “why” I left Christianity or what I “got wrong” without even reading my reasons, and with an open mind, not an attempt to judge. You are wrong that I did not understand justification by faith. You are wrong that I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. You are wrong that my faith was not my own. The idea that I could have believed so fervently, loved Jesus so fervently, trusted to his blood and his blood alone for my salvation and yet have somehow never have been saved is ludicrous at best and should have you shaking in your boots at worst. And really? This is the “no true Scotsman” fallacy at it’s best. “If you fell away, you must never have really been a true Christian. For some reason it seems like you must convince yourself that this is the case – otherwise you must admit that someone could be really saved, could really “know Jesus” like you, and could then fall away. And it doesn’t seem like that fits your view of the world.

      My readers will tell you that I allow disagreement on this blog. I do. I have readers who disagree with me on key points who have commented here for over a year without problem. I do, however, require civility and a desire to understand. And at the moment, I’m not seeing that. If you want to continue commenting on this blog, you need to show that you’re interested in more than just preaching.

      • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

        Posting this reply because there’s no “like” button.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Well thanks, Bob: everyone needs someone who Really Doesn’t Get It hanging around to tell them that they Really Don’t Get It. What a pathetic little self-justifying bubble you live in: anything wrong with someone’s Christian experience is put down to “user error” — not even a possibility of “product is defective”. Because that’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? You can’t admit that you might, just might, be *wrong*, can you?

    • Jaimie

      I have to disagree with you Bob. Not only was I brought up in church and went to a private Christian school, but studied all levels of doctrine. Everything you just described about justification through faith is old news to me. I could quote you the verses, too. The thing is, I grew to know TOO much about doctrine. I was one of those people who were trained to use Scripture to control (I mean, lead) others. That’s when fallacies, core fallacies in the whole salvation doctrine began to pop up. I wasn’t looking for them, either, and it was an extremely uncomfortable experience.
      There are so many things that just don’t add up. Hell, the doctrine of faith, morality, and many many more. Never mind the actual historical events.
      The biblical interpretations of the entire story of redemption is a fascinating, brilliant way to control the masses. It works. It has worked for thousands of years. It has everything. Love, peace in Christ, Heaven waiting for you. It also is very scary in the ever-present threat if you don’t toe the line: God is angry, Hell is waiting. Of course that is a gross simplification.
      Obviously you know your Bible. I wish you could look at in this light for a while because it could really open your eyes.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        “Everything you just described about justification through faith is old news to me.”

        Everything he described about justification through faith is old new to ME and I’ve been Jewish my whole life! This is the standard evangelical spiel and it’s hardly obscure. You don’t even need to have ever been evangelical to be familiar with this point-of-view, you just need to know something about Christianity. The fact that many people here, including Libby WERE evangelical (and I know some readers still are), and Bob still feels the need to spell all this out like it’s going to be some revelation is just absurd. It’s like proselytizers who seem to seriously think that people who aren’t already on their bandwagon have literally NEVER heard of Jesus. lol.

        Is it that hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that some people can have lived this life and walked away, and that others can have heard the case made for this life and said “No thanks?” Apparently so.

    • Ray

      Bob, I have some questions that might be uncomfortable for you. I have been reading your comments and I trying to figure out how you got to your position. I would like to know, how you came to believe that atheists are selfish. I wonder this because you seem to think that God is the source of all morality and empathy. So if you flash a smile at some or give a compliment, you are doing it for God not because you want to make that person smile back and be happy. I do not know if you are married or have a child, but if you did, do you want to give them a secure and good life with a reason other than pertaining to religion? If so, than you can see that empathy can be there for people who grew up in other religions, without religion, and who left religion. Sorry for the lecturing, my last question is more of a request, look at where you live and imagine the difference and similarities of a people who live in another place. Humans eat and sleep so there is a few. Watch documentaries about everyday life too.

  • http://TheBereanObserver Bob Wheeler

    I almost forgot one other point. The other part of the reason God requires an atonement is because that is the only way you can deal with your own subjective sense of guilt. You need to be able to point to the cross and say, “Look, Jesus paid it all. My guilt (my objective guilt before God) has been taken care of. I am forgiven and free”!
    There is an old hymn by Charles Wesley that expresses it beautifully: “Arise, my soul, arise, / Shake off thy guilty fears: / The bleeding Sacrifice / In my behalf appears: / Before the Throne my Surety stands, / Before the Throne my Surety stands, / My name is written on his hands.” Would that we sang more of these old-time hymns in church!

    • Rosie

      Wow, Bob, you don’t know ANYTHING about how the world works outside your little bubble, do you? You assume everyone has this existential guilt, when really that’s only the case for people who have been raised to believe they *should* experience existential guilt (the doctrine of Original Sin) who do…and not even all of them. And then you assume that the guilt can be “dealt with” only by some kind of atonement? That strikes me as…bizarre and counterproductive. I can think of several practices that have been a great deal more effective for me in dealing with the existential guilt I carried into adulthood thanks to my evangelical upbringing.

  • Saturn500

    You know what? Just ignore that Bob Wheeler guy. If he’s a troll, complaining will only encourage him. If not, his bigoted closed-mindedness doesn’t deserve acknowledgement.

    • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

      Unfortunately, I think Bob Wheeler is very real. He just completely ignored what Libby Anne wrote. I deal with this every day with my Mother. She is the one of the only people in my real world that knows I am an atheist. She is constantly saying shit like this, even though she knows I was a “real” Christian for over 20 years. She says I will come back, I am just rebelling for a little bit. The thing is, my Mom is a really wonderful person in every other way. It makes me sick to my stomach what religion does to people, myself included. I am embarrassed when I remember some of the things I did and said because of what I believed. I have to keep reminding myself that they are truly brainwashed, I know I was. It is the only way to stay sane when listening to what comes out of their mouths sometimes, because it makes absolutely no sense and is usually extremely condescending!

    • Jaimie

      Bob doesn’t bother me. How in the world can we articulate our own beliefs or lack thereof in a calm, respectful manner if we didn’t have a Bob questioning ours?
      It may not seem like it, but Bob is good for us.

      • http://TheBereanObserver Bob Wheeler

        Well, I’m glad there’s at least one person who can discuss the issues without getting defensive. I appreciate your comment. However, I’m really not interested in being part of an atheist support group, and will comment elsewhere!

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Interesting. Apparently saying “no preaching” and “it’s important to listen” and “you have your own blog, my blog is not your I Love Jesus 101 platform” = this is an atheist support group.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Being “defensive” is a natural response to somebody being OFFensive, Bob, which you have been in about a million different ways (albeit always passive-aggressive ways). But buh-bye.

      • machintelligence

        And please stick your flounce.

      • Carol

        Totally passive aggressive. So long.

  • AnotherOne

    Bob, I think you mean well. But when you say that those of us like Libby Anne and others “don’t understand the gospel,” you’re simply wrong. Many of us understand the gospel quite well, and spent years believing it wholeheartedly (like Libby Anne), or trying to believe it (like me). What do you say to someone who tried desperately for years “to make her faith her own,” and it simply didn’t work? And it’s not like there’s some life of debaucherous freedom that I wanted in place of the strictures of Christianity. I’m about as plain jane a goody two shoes as they come. But for me, after years of trying to force a square peg in a round hole, I simply accepted the fact that the gospel, and the doctrines of fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity do not match life and the world as I experience them. I think there are many beautiful things about Christianity and religion, and I value those things–something that may set me apart from many other people commenting here. But no, I don’t believe the gospel, and it’s not because I don’t understand it, or for lack of trying. I understand that as a committed evangelical Christian you are convinced of the truth of the gospel you outlined. But if truth is your concern, don’t make up false stories about the people who have rejected what you believe. No amount of you saying we don’t really understand the gospel, or didn’t really know Christ, or wanted the selfish pleasures of the world can make that the case when it’s not.

  • Maddie

    Bob, I know it’s comforting to believe we just didn’t get it, that if only we’d properly experienced and understood it, if only we’d really believed, if only we’d done faith right, we could never have lost it. But that isn’t what happened. We understood. We tried. We tried so hard. Do you think it was just easy to let go? Many of us struggled for years with this, and suffered mental breakdowns when we realised that faith was gone – not just “lost”, but gone from existence.

    It sounds to me like it makes you feel better to believe that we didn’t get it right, that it was our failure that made us turn away, not the object of faith, and I get that. It is way easier to blame us for not doing it right than to believe that we did and still lost our faith. But honestly, you sound like a women who, on hearing of a rape, lists all the things that the victim should and shouldn’t have been doing if they wanted to avoid being raped. And you know why those women talk like that? Because they don’t want to believe it could ever happen to them, and they hope against hope that if they keep to all those rules, then it never will. It makes them feel in control.

    Bob, from where I’m sitting, you sound like it scares the everloving crap out of you that other people who used to have true faith have lost it, because you don’t know what that might mean for you. You sound you just can’t accept the possibility that people of true faith can lose that because it means that your true faith is not invulnerable. So you conclude that it must be that we didn’t really have it, we didn’t really mean it, we didn’t really understand it, we didn’t try hard enough, SOMETHING WAS WRONG WITH US, because if it wasn’t, what does that mean for you? It means this, Bob: faith, even yours, is not an indestructible fortress. Faith, even yours, can be destroyed. And I think that that idea is terrifying to you, that you might not be invulnerable to the same processes as us, however strong you feel now. Otherwise, why be threatened?

    Now, I don’t know you, so I could be wrong. I doubt it’s a conscious process even if I’m right. But that’s what you sound like. You sound desperate to believe that we just did it wrong, and that seems like protesting too much.

  • Rod

    Bob.. .. I am reminded of a post on another blog, in which a priest/minister asked a non-believer how he lost his faith. He replied “I just put it down and walked away from it.”

  • Bre

    I wouldn’t even know how to go about responding to someone like Bob, partly because I can’t be bothered to read through his whole comment. Proselytizing, indeed. I think most believers cannot grasp the idea that atheists are happy, secure, well-adjusted people that do not need “support groups” (although being understood by like-minded people is always appreciated, especially for those realizing they don’t believe in whatever religion they were raised). Very good reply, Libby Anne, as always I really enjoy your blog.

    • Steve

      Yeah, it scares to them to death that others may be happy without believing exactly what they do. Their faith is so fragile that this makes them question weather it’s really the One True Way.

  • smrnda

    I think the whole notion of sin and holiness is bullshit. People are hardly perfect, but most people live lives that are far too mundane to be considered particularly good or bad. I can see a moral God having a problem with Hitler, but what are most people doing morally that is such a huge deal? It seems like Christian starts with the assumption “all people are horrible and nasty sinners” and then has to blow ordinary human behavior into some kind of monstrous evil that it really isn’t.

    As for God needing to be just, I work with kids. Sometimes kids hit each other and I don’t look the other way, but the important thing is stopping the behavior and hoping they improve as they get older. I guess the difference between me and the Christian God is the Christian God is keeping some kind of score. There might be some things that you can’t just look the other way on, but plenty of things are just not a very big deal. I’m not condoning the behavior of kids hitting each other, it’s just that punishment not only doesn’t work, the whole concept of punishment seems stupid to me.

    And on guilt, I don’t think I’ve really lived a good or a bad life, but there’s not much I really feel guilty about. Part of the reason is that people are usually fairly accepting of your faults, and I think that’s a good thing. To me, the whole “only perfection is good enough for the Christian God” makes me just think that the Christian God has some major OCD issues. I didn’t feel objective guilt when adults complained about my behavior when I was younger because I realized that sometimes authority figures are unreasonable, in the wrong, and punishing you out of their own ego issues.

    But on leaving, it’s pretty obvious that a lot or Christians just can’t believe someone find the religion to be false. There always has to be some other factor and it can’t be that the beliefs don’t make sense or aren’t backed up by evidence. Look at how many Christians will argue that it’s all because of either the failure to have the right kind of faith, a false understanding – there’s a million things that attempt to explain away the loss of faith.

    • Jaimie

      Very well said. The concept of sin as a child was much more straight forward than as an adult. Then I realized that life is just a wee bit more complicated than the black and white I was brought up to believe. There are no simple answers to life’s tough questions. And the Christian answers are no answers at all but only serve to make life harder than it has to be.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      It’s telling that the first step on the Romans Road to salvation is convincing people that they are sinners deserving of hell.

  • ScottInOH

    Just thought I’d leave a comment for Angie!

    I’ve been interested to see, in the last several months on this blog, just how common “salvation anxiety” is. I only learned that term from Libby Anne (not sure if it’s more widely used or not), but your story is not unlike my own in that respect: sort of an OCD need to ask forgiveness just in case. I eventually went with a blanket request each night, which I hoped was good enough. I still knew I was going to screw up the next day, though.

    One compulsion I had that I haven’t heard others mention here was the need to pray for everyone I knew to be “saved.” “Please save A. Please save B. Please save C. …” Over time, my list got really long!

  • Lee R.

    If there is anything in this world that is truly impossible, it’s attempting to have a reason-based discussion with a person who does not proceed from reason. Bob and the very many others like him–regardless of good intentions–cannot for a millisecond contemplate being wrong. Their belief is their foundation, their truth, their purpose.

    Sadly, that means that communication outside the structure of their belief has an absolute zero percent chance of success.

  • Caroline

    Nobody should ever feel like they’re not normal and don’t fit in. You just have to find people who accept you as you are.