Interlude: On Being Afraid, Anniversary Edition.

I’ve been noticing some folks around the internet talking about their looming or newly-discovered deconversions and I wanted to direct a post to them as we approach the one-year anniversary of this blog. I’m super-bad at dates, or I’d have done this post earlier–sorry, I’ll set an alarm next time! This thang has never really been about me. It’s always been about the folks who are struggling with their indoctrination and programming, the folks who are wondering how they can ever get away from those mental tapes running in their heads, the folks who need assurance that they’re not crazy or defective. I never imagined I’d reach so many people in such a short time and it just awes and humbles me to think about it. And I want you to know that what brings me to the keyboard every time is you: it is the hope of writing something that touches somebody and helps in that search and in the journey of life–either to give light to someone struggling in the darkness or to strengthen someone who is already journeying out of that darkness.

One of the scariest things you can possibly do is step away from that programming. I know exactly how that feels. Your whole world starts looking precarious and uncertain. It’s a terrifying experience to realize that everything you ever thought about the world is wrong. I grew up as a Christian, in a very deeply Christian family, in a very deeply Christian culture, and I desperately craved the truth. That need led me to research and critically examine the faith I cherished, and when I looked too deeply, I discovered there wasn’t anything really true about the religion itself. There was no god judging me or talking to me. There was no deity who’d created the world or the universe or humans or deer ticks or Ebola. There was no holy book that was the inerrant word of any supernatural beings. All those prayers I had so earnestly prayed and recited and wept and cried out had been going to the ceiling and bouncing back at me. That spiritual rush I felt sometimes? That was just a euphoric or cathartic rush, something that was not uniquely Christian at all. Every scientific or historical claim Christianity made was false; every claim to unique superiority or superlative morality on the part of Christians was odiously untrue in the main.

At this point I have been out of Christianity for about as long as I was in it. I dropped it entirely when I was 24, and I’m in my mid-40s now. The process of deconversion took a very long time, though; I began questioning when I was around 22. It took that long to be sure. For some people it’s a blinding flash of the obvious and they’re done; for others, it may take years. And it was really scary at first to contemplate what it meant to me that Christianity was untrue.

I’m here to tell you that there’ll be a day when you’re not so afraid and uncertain.

I’m still coming to grips with some of the manufactured fears Christianity instilled in me. Would I even fear death if my religion had not made death so terrifying? Would I ever even think about what came next if Christianity hadn’t insisted I should think about it all the time? But the older fears are gone now; I trust myself and my judgement. I don’t want a guru to tell me what to do anymore; I trust that when given all the facts, I’ll make the best decision possible. The blatant racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia dropped away from me quite some time ago (though as a person who bears privilege in a lot of areas, I will probably always fight my conditioning to some extent). I’ve learned enough critical thinking skills that I can steer clear of science denial movements and other squirrel food. I’ve learned enough about science that I know exactly why fundagelical claims are madness, and enough about religion to know exactly why I have deliberately and conscientiously rejected the entire Judeo-Christian mythos.

And as unlikely as it might seem right now, you will get there too if you just keep moving forward.

I promise.

You don’t have to do anything right now. You don’t even have to do anything tomorrow, or the day after. You can take it one day at a time at a pace that makes you comfortable. Thinking for yourself is a habit. Learning to trust yourself takes time. Making your own decisions can be scary at first but it will get easier every time you do it. I promise you this.

The important thing to remember, when in those early stages, is to take whatever actions you must in order to be safe and healthy. If you fear someone might react very violently or otherwise negatively to news of the deconversion, you don’t need to share your news with that person till you’ve made sure of your own safety and needs first. If you might lose your job, start hunting for something new before you make any public announcements. If your parents might cut you off financially, have other options lined up. Once news gets out, you’re probably going to lose the vast majority of your Christian friends like just about all of us did. You’re going to see just how loving they can all be. It’ll hurt like blazes. And it’s okay that it hurts. It’s part of the birthing pain of moving into a new paradigm. Minimize those risks as much as you can. You are under no obligation to be direct with people who are dangerous to you in some way; there may well be people you never directly tell about your deconversion. Evaluate the risks before making a move, and try not to burn bridges if you can avoid it.

You don’t need to become an atheist. I’m not. A lot of ex-Christians aren’t. Some of us end up in other religions–some mainstream, some less common. Some of us become “Nones,” not affiliated directly with anything. Some of us do something else entirely. Christianity insists that we label ourselves, but we really don’t have to do that. You can go for years without labeling whatever you believe, and that’s all right. Nobody has the right to label you. You label yourself. And you can change your label whenever you want. As you learn and grow, you’ll probably do this a few times. And that’s okay too.

The one thing I’d truly suggest to you is to keep educating yourself. Christianity has had thousands of years to hone its false arguments and make its shoddy fake evidence look interesting to the ignorant, the childish, and the easily beguiled. Learn, learn, learn, learn. Never stop learning. If this life is all we get, then make the most of it that you can. Read other ex-Christians’ accounts; talk to others who’ve made that journey; watch the videos we put out; learn from those who’ve walked that road already. Learn as much about science and critical thinking skills as you can, because that will inoculate you in great part against falling for religious nonsense ever again. Learn why Christianity’s truth claims are simply untrue. Learn about its abuses, the ones you didn’t notice while you were in it, the ones you couldn’t face directly.

Most of all, learn how to really love. Christianity’s biggest offense against humanity is that it so often creates people who don’t know what love is, people who have warped abuse into love and who hurt people in the name of love. Learn what love actually looks like. No matter what religion or belief system or personal philosophy you end up in, it seems to me that if it has you really loving people, embracing reality, and wanting to help humanity progress forward, then you’re on the right track.

One Fear illustration from Book of Fears
One Fear illustration from Book of Fears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that might be all off in the future for you. For now, the world may look scary and raw, and I want you to know that I understand. I’m not going to rob you of your emotions or tell you that you aren’t allowed to feel fear. If you feel fear, then that’s okay. The emotions ex-Christians often feel are perfectly natural and expected. I’d even say they’re all quite common. Just know that these fears are based in programming, not in reality. They are part of the conditioning that was meant to stop you from questioning what you were getting taught, and if you did question things, they were meant to scare you into staying in the religion even long after discovering how untrue it is. Those fears were meant to keep you in the traces and on the field. And I’m here to tell you that they work really well in that regard. That’s why they get deployed. You may never know how many people sitting beside you in church or youth rallies who don’t really believe it all gung-ho, but are too scared to imagine a life outside of their faith.

These fears were bestowed upon you with the best of intentions, perhaps, but they aren’t any more true than the fear a child has about a monster in the closet. That said, what the fear means to you is still valid: when that child talks about fearing monsters in the closet, what’s really happening underneath that fear is what we need to address as adults so we can banish the fear. In the same way, your fears are speaking to undercurrents that are the real problem for you. So work with that fear; dive into it; learn why it’s there; learn what the fear is speaking to; learn what you need to learn to dissipate that fear. Work with it, not against it, and you’ll find it a lot easier to grow past it.

Be gentle with yourself right now. You might feel stupid, or cheated, or angry. Those are all okay and valid. I’d think something was maybe wrong with you if you never felt any of those things. It may take years to process all of it, if you were deeply conditioned like I was.

But please, please, please trust me: it won’t always feel like this.

There will come a day when you are decades out of the religion and looking back at it with a whole different set of eyes. Those old fears will seem to you then like a child’s fear of monsters seems to you now. Trusting in your own judgement will be second nature. Making decisions won’t even seem weird. Critically examining claims will be old hat. Things will make a lot more sense than they do now. And learning will still be a thrill.

And, uh, one final request?

Be gentle with that younger self when you get to that point, okay? You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. That’s about all anybody can ask. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

<3 to you all. Tomorrow is our one-year anniversary, and I’ve got something planned that I hope you’ll like. Thank you again for joining me, whether you’re an old hand or a newcomer to the ship, and I look forward to another year with you.

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