I loved this recent entry from barrier breaker about “The Beautiful Simplicity of Life After Ghosts and Monsters.” It’s one of those eye-opening, spirit-awakening sorts of posts that puts words to something all too many of us have to find out for ourselves after leaving religion. I can see why Christians have all sorts of untrue notions regarding life outside their religion, and this is one of the most untrue and the most game-changing of all the untrue things they believe and teach. In short, Christians flat-out lied to me about what life was like after deconversion, and I’ll show you how–and why–they did it.
Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies.
In his post, our friend Martin Hughes writes:
Sometimes, Christians ask if I regret living in such a boring world. After all, they believe in angels and demons, heaven and hell, God and Satan. I just believe in the world I directly experience. Do I feel like I’m losing something? Do I feel empty?
And that really resonated with me. I myself have been asked similar questions over the years by Christians who–despite living among greater and greater numbers of non-Christians–still don’t seem to know all that much about what non-belief is like. That ignorance is put on a wall pulsing with untrue notions regarding the universe and then found wanting against all that big important stuff.
I get it. I really do. I remember aching for that universe to be the real one. I hungered for magic to be real–magic, real magic, which is to say totally unrelated words, deeds, gestures, and beliefs that trigger and alter our world in tangible ways. Prayer is always going to be the best example there is of magical thinking, but there are certainly lots of other examples of it in the universe of people who are not hindered by excessively strong tethers to reality. I believed wholeheartedly in all the supernatural stuff in the Bible, but also in pretty much everything else that was supernatural. If I’d stayed Christian, I might have ended up like one of those post-Satanic-Panic nutbars who think Harry Potter books should be outlawed because they teach kids how to cast spells.
When I was a teenager and a firm Christian, I was greatly alarmed and concerned by Christian classmates who freaked out and lost their minds over a weird-guy classmate who was rumored to keep a vial of human blood in his backpack–and a copy of a book we regarded as the real-deal magic textbook, the Necronomicon. I knew that as a Christian, I was not only safe but guaranteed to win against any demon (against other humans, maybe nowhere near as assured, but against supernatural stuff–natch!).
Thus, I eagerly looked forward to becoming a full adult so I could engage in the spiritual warfare that my tribe promised awaited me.
PRAYER WARRIORS FOR JESUS.
Spiritual warfare is a Christianese term that means, to Christians at least, metaphorical combat against supernatural foes. The foes can be purely imaginary or the combat can occur between people, or between Christians and governments. The more fundagelical the Christian, the more important this idea is to that person. The more extremist, belligerent, and chest-thumpy the Christian, the more enthusiastic that person will be about engaging in this “warfare.”
I’m not totally sure when the idea became so prominent to Christians, but I can tell you that by the time I became a fundagelical myself it was already becoming the most important thing ever to my tribe.
Much of the idea comes from the Bible’s sixth chapter of Ephesians where it talks about wearing “the armor of God” in order to engage in “our struggle. . . against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”1 Christians of both genders (yes, both–we were very binary as well as heteronormative!) could strap on their spiritual armor to stride into the arena to do this spiritual battle with the demons who infested this world.
I’ve written before about spiritual warfare because I think it’s one of those important concepts to understand if you want to understand how fundagelicals in particular manage to maintain their belligerence, willful ignorance, and self-delusional beliefs year after year. The idea of spiritual warfare may well be one of the most confusing beliefs out of the whole bag of confusing beliefs. In lived reality, though, it’s just the process whereby Christians psyche themselves up to argue against their tribal enemies, claw for whatever shreds of dominance they can get, and force their religion on others.
It’s hard to shake that self-important thinking, too. Long after deconversion I met a woman who called herself “a Christian sorceress” who firmly believed that curses–uttered by anyone with magic power and the understanding of such things–were real and could hurt her and her loved ones.2 Between my teens and adulthood at least I’d learned not to bring up all the Bible verses saying that such nonsense didn’t pose a risk to a Christian. They never allayed those Christians’ fears and superstitions. I had no idea how to show them how to get past their fear. I still don’t. I had plenty of fears, just not about losing fights to demons.
That said, I still had a lot of supernatural beliefs–they just weren’t as out-there as some other folks’ beliefs. It would take years for me to finally lose all of them.
Phenomenal Cosmic Powers…
One of the biggest reasons why I just couldn’t let go of those last vestiges of supernatural belief is because I felt that the world I thought existed seemed so much more interesting and fascinating than the actual real world that I saw all around me.
Think for a moment about the world of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes movies, and about how the supernatural looms all through that first one. Here’s the trailer:
Jude Law’s expression at the very end of this trailer is EVERYTHING.
Whatever one’s opinion of the movie itself3, it matches very closely the world I inhabited before I lost my supernatural beliefs. There’s this drab London that everybody experiences and inhabits, but delve even a little past that surface world and you have evil men who may or may not be sorcerers who can resurrect themselves. Of course, the movie reveals at the end that the villain didn’t do anything supernatural at all–it was just magic tricks. But even so, we’re looking at a world where good guys have big fights with bad guys on giant scaffolding things, where elaborate conspiracies exist to further the ambitions of supremely-arrogant and unpleasant villains, and where a few very special people can dive through London’s strict social veneer to enjoy a nice Fight Club with one’s mates. One of the movie’s more entertaining aspects is that for a little while, the audience really has to wonder if mayyyyyybe there really is some sorcerer running around London trying to seize supernatural power.
In our real world, though, there’s no indication at all that anything supernatural is real–which means that anything that seems supernatural simply isn’t. There is always an explanation, no matter how weird a situation may look. It might not be easy to explain, but the simple truth is that there’s never, ever been any weird thing we’ve ever figured out in our entire history as a species that’s turned out to be anything but natural.And to some people, that reality is a letdown.
It’s a disappointment.
It’s a buzzkill.
Christians don’t want to think that this universe is entirely and completely what it looks like it is. That would mean that this world really is all there is–and that Christians are just regular people like anyone else. That’s no fun! They can be mighty warriors in a world awash in supernatural entities. They wanna fling around lightning-bolts of supernatural force in that ethereal plane. They wanna see the consequences of their affiliation with what they sure hope is the winning tribe. They wanna trample evil forces underfoot and exult in their victories. And of course they wanna go partying in Heaven after it’s all over.
To them, that huge boost to their self-importance and perceived personal power is what is important to them. That’s what makes life worth living. That’s what elevates them from their ordinary, humdrum lives to feeling like the sons and daughters (and yet somehow also the spiritual brides, and yes, we all thought it was weird though we didn’t question it) of a real live god who needs–who requires, even–his followers’ active and frequent forays into spiritual warfare on his behalf.
That’s probably why so many overzealous Christian fanatics also buy into a lot of conspiracy theories!
…Itty Bitty Living Space.
Valancy, so cowed and subdued and overridden and snubbed in real life, was wont to let herself go rather splendidly in her day-dreams. Nobody in the Stirling clan, or its ramifications, suspected this, least of all her mother and Cousin Stickles.
The thing is, being fundagelical is actually really, really boring.
I’m not kidding. And you probably knew that, but the sheer extent of that boredom is something that I don’t think non-fundagelicals ever really come to grips with because in their world, there’s never a reason to be that totally out-of-your-mind bored all the freakin’ time.
Being fundagelical means being controlled so tightly that you can’t even blink lest you fall afoul of the tribe’s ever-tightening rules. That’s why courtship culture started relatively light, with young men and women being taught to see dating as an evaluation opportunity for potential spouses and then it spiraled into pure Sharia law with girls being deliberately sabotaged by their parents so their future husbands, who would be chosen not through dating but by those parents, would never see defiance from their wives.
Recognizing the competition that fun represents to their controlling demands, most fundagelical groups ban a wide variety of activities and habits that quite a few people consider to be fun: dancing, movies, hanging out at bars, tabletop roleplaying games and LARPs, enjoying whatever legal mind-altering substances are available in their area, and of course that ever-popular activity enjoyed by consenting adults in private and viewed with such deep suspicion and jealousy by the more extreme elements in the religion: Mario Kart.
Oh, yeah, and for a lot of folks “fun” also looks like “having sex like mad minks in heat whenever the kids look like they’ll be busy for a few minutes.” Some Christian groups I’ve heard about get peevish about even married couples having sex for any reason except pre-approved procreation attempts. I’ve also heard of fundagelical groups that clamped down on recreational reading–only religious non-fiction was allowed, and of course it had to be books written by people whose doctrinal orthodoxy was assured.
We used to sing about “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” but really all we had was a sort of pure emotional catharsis that we had to work ourselves into during particularly rowdy Sunday night and revival services. That process of psyching ourselves up for another round of exciting spiritual warfare was how we got through the week.
When the demands of fundagelicalism become too great to bear and too crushing to ignore, men and women are told that there is no form of self-soothing or self-medication that is acceptable under their tribe’s rules. All they get told is to give it to Jesus. There is no way to melt off their steam, no way to bleed away their built-up boredom and stress and fear and rage, no fun that they’re allowed to have except the ersatz pseudo-fun that fundagelicals pretend is just as good, darn it, as the “sin” that mean ole libruls and atheists have. (Remember Second Glance, when David whines to his father that he’s missing out on “all the fun” and his dad gets this absolutely disgusted look and FTFH to “all the sin?” Exactly, that’s exactly how they see all the stuff that normal people like to do.)
Worse, even thinking about seeking reputable, credible, effective help for inevitable emotional meltdowns is seen as breaking one of the biggest fundagelical rules there are about never going outside the tribe for such help–even when fundagelical “therapy” is worse than useless.
Knowing what I know about fundagelicalism, I can’t blame Christians at all for leaping into flights of fancy that would have made Walter Mitty go whoa, guys, that’s just a little excessive, y’all are wound just a leeeeeetle too tight, doncha think, so maybe you oughta tone it down and sign up for horseback riding lessons or hot yoga or a book club or something just to get out of the house now and again?
No, Deconversion Is Not Boring.
Christian evangelists offered me a vision of a fulfilling life that served a real purpose, one that put me at the dead center of a massive war against unseen dark forces battling over ultimate stakes, and told me that its rules for women would ensure that I ended up in a happy, fulfilling marital partnership with a fellow foot-soldier.
Reality looked nothing like that promise. Nothing.
It’s downright comical that Christians think that deconversion makes life look drab and dull and empty. I have to remind myself that they seriously think that I’m going through life with just the drab parts of it that they go through but without the release of catharsis and the big action-movie blockbuster-budget supernatural battle for ultimate stakes that Christians imagine is going on. They think I’m closing my eyes to the only really good half of their universe. No wonder they think that sounds boring. If that’s what was happening, it actually would be!
What they don’t realize is that once I was finally freed of supernatural beliefs, the world made sense at last. Finally, cause and effect held hands and kissed. It was like senpai had noticed me!
Finally, I was freed of fearing the real world’s mysterious workings and wracking my brains trying to figure out why terrible stuff kept happening to me and trying to work out how to get a god to maybe help me sometimes if he was maybe in the mood this time and all (and then when I was disappointed, figuring out why he hadn’t, what I’d done to render myself unworthy…).
When I stopped seeing myself as a helpless child whose main focus was survival and adaptation in a supremely hostile, unfair, and capricious environment, I could open myself to the sheer wonder of the world.
And oh, friends, it is wondrous.
I’ve found my fascination with the world again. I’ve found real joy. I feel connected to the real world as if there’s a beam of light shining down from my head to the center of the Earth. This is an astonishing and amazing time to be alive, and I’m finally seeing all of this universe with clear eyes. The supernatural world I used to inhabit might sound superficially exciting, but it wasn’t real and all that belief did was draw me further and further into a life of servitude and drudgery that benefited others at my own expense the whole way through. Those beliefs hurt me in so many ways, but one of the hurts that still stings sometimes is that I lost so much time chasing these fairy tales when I could have been doing something real that worked for me rather than benefiting and gratifying the men around me.
I try to make up for lost time though!
In formulating a reply to questions like but but but isn’t deconverted life boring?, I find myself at a complete loss. I no longer speak the same language they do. I no longer live in the same kind of world they inhabit. Fundagelicals still see the universe as something to fight, something to control, something to survive against. I don’t think they understand any other way of seeing it.
If I’d been able to understand the truth, though, I don’t think I would have waited so long to leave.
Maybe that’s why the leaders of this broken system keep pushing the idea that deconversion lessens a person somehow.
(If they were forced to sell their product without using threats of any kind, what would they even do?)
I’ve got a special treat for you next time: I’m going to scan some of the pages of that Christian dating seminar I attended as a teen. I thought we’d get a kick out of seeing it! And yes, soon we’re going to kick off the Thanksgiving/Christmas season later with a lil story I’ve hinted about. See you then!
1 The same chapter also completely endorses slavery and assures slaves that after they die everything will work out for everyone–as well as telling masters to treat slaves well, somehow missing the command to FREE THEM BECAUSE SLAVERY IS FLAT OUT EVIL. Oh that Yahweh. He’s forgetful, I guess. (Or something.)
2 No, I have no idea what she meant by that, and I never wanted to ask. She was not someone I got along with under the best of circumstances. She was the significant other of a good friend so sometimes I had to play nicely with her. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball!