What I don’t miss about Christianity (and why this post is not about Star Foster)

What I don’t miss about Christianity (and why this post is not about Star Foster) September 18, 2014

zfirstfundamentalistNiki Whiting recently wrote an excellent essay about a nostalgia she has for the Christianity she left behind. Niki writes that it is, to a certain extent, a false nostalgia, a “longing for something that never was.” She goes on, “At the core of this misplaced nostalgia is a longing for spiritual community.”  (I can’t do it justice here, so you should go there to read it … after you finish here, that is.)  Anyway, Niki’s post resonated with me.  My own desire for spiritual community sent me into an Greek Orthodox service not too long ago, and it prompts periodic outbursts from me on this blog about the inadequacy of Unitarianism.  (Incidentally, my venture to the Orthodox service was not what I had hoped. It was like they were speaking Greek. Well, they were speaking Greek, but I mean in a spiritual sense.  I loved the ritual in an abstract way, but the symbols were not mine.)

Anyway, after I read the title of Niki’s post, but before I read the essay itself, I started making a list of all the things I do not miss about Christianity — or more specifically about the form of Christianity I knew: Mormonism.  I was very excited to have an excuse to share with all of you my personal rant against Christianity/Mormonism.

And then, last night, I saw this post by Star Foster, the former editor of the Pagan channel here at Patheos, entitled “Going Home Again: Christianity After a 15 Year Absence“, at her blog, In the Garden, where not too long ago she was writing about Pagan polytheism.  Apparently, Star has been blogging for a Christian audience at a separate blog, “May Love Increase: An Apostate Reconsiders Christianity”, and recently decided to merge the blogs, effectively coming out to her Pagan/polytheist audience.

So I decided to take a time out from my Deep Ecology series and try to figure out the feelings I was having about this.  Not too long ago, another well-known Pagan blogger, Teo Bishop, (re-)converted to Christianity.  I was saddened by this, because I really, really enjoyed reading Teo’s writing about Paganism, and we were just starting to become online friends.  I thought Teo was a great person, and saw his departure as a loss to the Pagan community as a whole.  And I defended Teo’s right to decide his own path against anyone who attacked his character.

But I was surprised to find that my feelings about Star’s (re-)conversion were much stronger.  I was not friends with Star.  In fact, I sometimes felt personally attacked by her, as she took aim (in her writing here at Patheos) at anyone whose Paganism did not resemble her own.  I admit that I sometimes got a little perverse satisfaction out of dueling with her online, and I did not always take the rhetorical high ground in those encounters.  And so, in a part of me I’m not so proud of, I did feel a little vindicated when I saw Star’s post about her conversion — as if her life choices somehow make mine more authentic?! What a crock!

But there was something else too.  Anger … I think.  And much stronger than the disappointment I felt when Teo Bishop made the same move.  Contrasting their two personalities helped me to hone in on the real reason for my feelings … and on the one thing that I miss the least about Christianity … ME!

“The Shadow” by Steven Kenny

The thing that I don’t miss about Christianity is me, the Christian me, the person who I was when I was Christian.  And the reason why I felt such strong feeling about Star and her return to Christianity, and the reason why she always pushed my buttons when she was Pagan, is that she reminds me of me!  Star Foster (at least the Star Foster that I knew though her online writing) is a mirror of a shadow side of me that I would rather forget.

I remember once, not too long after I left the Mormon Church, I was arguing with my wife (who was still Mormon), and she said something like “You haven’t changed at all.” You know when somebody says something and it strikes you to your core?  Well, that was it for me.  I realized immediately that she was right.  I had changed my religious affiliation, but I had kept my fundamentalist, all-or-nothing, black-and-white mentality.  My new beliefs were just the flip side of the same coin.  I still had zero tolerance for ambiguity, and zero insight into the meaning of religion beyond the truth or falsity of its dogma.  Realizing this and actually changing it were two different things.  And so, even we I came to Paganism, I carried that attitude with me, searching for the one-and-only true form of Paganism, and being overly-concerned with belief and neglecting practice.  Well, that attitude led me right out of the Mormon church, and could have led me away from Paganism too, if I had continued in that way.

Blogging has been my salvation though.  Primarily because you, my readers, have been willing to call me on my sh*t — most of you, patiently and compassionately (some less so).  I am grateful to you for that.  You have been a great community for me.  Gradually, painfully, I have cultivated a more nuanced understanding of truth, as well as a less cerebral, more embodied sense of the sacred.  I’m still a work in progress, but I think I’ve made progress nonetheless.

One thing I have learned about religious zealots along the way is this: their need to convince everyone else that they are right is born of a need to convince themselves.  I know this, because I was (and part of me probably still is a little) a religious zealot.  My need to convince others of the truth of (my version of) Mormonism grew out of that place, deep inside me where I was not convinced myself.  And my need to “defend” my kind of Paganism against all the other kinds, that was born of an insecurity about the authenticity of my own Paganism.  I recognize my own fundamentalist attitude, mirrored back to me, in Star’s writing.  That that’s why she could push my buttons.  And that’s why her re-conversion to Christianity stirred up in me such strong emotions.  There, but for the grace of the Goddess, go I.

So today, in recognition of the fact that I am no longer the person I was when I was Christian, I am doing two things:

First, I am wishing Star Foster well on her path wherever it may take her … because I know she is more than the caricature I made of her in my own mind; she is more than a foil for my writing here; she is more than my shadow. She is her own person, with her own story, and her own pains and joys, and entitled to every consideration. Star, I wish

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

And second, I am burning my list of things I don’t miss about Christianity … because I realized that the thing I missed the least is that part of me that made lists about other people’s religion.

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  • Adam Blodgett


    I especially liked: “their need to convince everyone else that they are right is born of a need to convince themselves”.

  • Holy crap, this was honest. Well done, sir.

  • Star Foster

    Calling someone a fundamentalist is essentially demonizing and “othering” them. You still don’t have a grasp of the moral high ground, John.

    • Deep peace to you, Star.

    • yewtree

      Actually I don’t think he did call you a fundamentalist.

      I think he admitted that he was projecting his inner fundamentalist onto you, and resolved not to do it in future. That’s different.

      Anyway, I can appreciate some of the pain and wrestling you are going through right now. I just read a couple of your posts.

    • Alley Valkyrie

      First off, he didn’t call you a fundamentalist. Second, last time I checked, the term “fundamentalism” has a specific meaning in terms of what a person believes and how they practice. I don’t see how it’s demonizing. I know fundamentalists who proudly identify as such.

      But I guess your shift in religious beliefs has had no bearing on your desire to create drama…

  • Elinor Predota

    Bravo! <3

  • Henry Buchy

    zealotism and fundamentalism are not synonymous.

    • True. I have a tendency toward both.

      • Henry Buchy

        just the latter for me.

  • yewtree

    Great post, John. Respect to you for noticing those things about yourself.

  • roberto quintas

    I have my differences with Star Foster. The question that we could ask is what, anyway, a person is really looking for when comes to Paganism?

    • yewtree

      I don’t think people necessarily know what they are looking for. But we are all conditioned to expect certain things by our prior experiences.

  • yewtree

    I don’t know if anyone commenting on this post has actually had the experience of being in the throes of conversion. It is actually really painful. It feels like all the beautiful shiny colourful Pagan myth, stories, and knowledge you have acquired is going to hang around in your brain being useless; it feels like the wildness is being squeezed out of you; it feels like the magic is ebbing away. It feels full of fear and foreboding. Like being shut in a tiny room with no colours.

    EDIT: I should add that I got over it and all is well now. That all happened in 2007 – a while ago now.

  • Sarah Sadie

    Bravo, sir. Deep respect.

  • Sunweaver

    I was pretty young when I stopped being Christian, spent a long time agnostic, then came to Wicca as a young adult, followed by Hellenic Polytheism. For my own spiritual journey, Christianity is a long way behind me and I really no longer find it very interesting in terms of my own practice. While I most certainly support interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding, I think Paganisms are going to shift focus away from being defined in relation to Christianity. I think it’s going to matter to us less and less over time.

    This post has been a good read and I appreciate respectful difference of opinion and honest self-examination.

  • Danielle Amourtrance Verum

    There is a period of deep grieving and anger after one chooses to leave a path they were deeply committed to. When I left the Abrahamic god and his faiths it tore me up, it hurt, because at one point I loved him. Deeply loved him. And while I was faithful I believed he loved me too. And then I started learning more about the theology of the branch I was in, and the more I knew about this god the more I started to fall out of love. That hurts. When I finally left I felt betrayed, lied to and angry. For a while I explored other paths, but I only knew one way to be, the old me, but I was hurt, confused and angry too. So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be too hard on yourself for anything you may have done or did or said. It’s how humans cope with things. But one thing I did realize, after months of trying to heal, is that I had to figure out who I was, what I believed and why…otherwise I knew that I’d go back. Just like an abusive ex that tries to win you back with warm words and the comforting things they used to say when you were together, I knew if I didn’t figure stuff out that my emotions would win and I’d be back in that place. I’m not saying this is the case with all folks who return to the Abrahamic god and one of his faiths, but I’m dang sure it’s the case for some. They never break free of the lure of community, the warmth or whatever positive value they see…and they go back, they forget why they left in the first place. It’s sad because for me, that’s how I see that god. Says I love you even as the theology says suffering is a good thing and to offer it up. I love you, smack, but I love you, smack. No thanks. If those paths are the truth, I’ll take whatever I get for rejecting such “love” as that.

    • That’s how I experienced him too: an abusive father. Reminds me of this song:

      “Love is a temple
      Love the higher law
      You ask me to enter
      But then you make me crawl
      And I can’t be holding on
      To what you got
      When all you got is hurt”
      — U2, “One”