Pay attention, Christians, as I explain to you the power you unjustly held over me for years and the power that, as a consequence, I am immune to now. Try to manipulate me in the ways I describe and you will find me indignantly contemptuous of your paltry bait.
Growing up, I was a conscientious kid. Part of this was from fear. My mom frequently recounts that when I was a small child she never had to hit me because simply the threat she would do so would make me burst into tears. As a kid, I was a bit opinionated and (healthily?) mouthy since my parents always let me be myself and express myself. I will be grateful until the day I die that they gave me this gift, that they always reasoned with me, and that they encouraged me to pursue my talents and my dreams in life.
At least partly because I was a loved, stable, and happy child, I didn’t feel any great need to rebel. I took well to authority. I took well to rules. I was obedient, gentle, earnest, conscientious, and emotionally sensitive. Most of all, after being fiercely averse to anyone outside my immediate family when I was very little, I became extremely outgoing, gregarious, and unrestrainedly self-expressive while still young.
I speculate that I internalized Christianity so deeply when I was young because I was a good kid and I was powerfully indoctrinated that goodness itself was bound up with the Christian faith. The most trusted authority figures in my life all insisted on the absolute and necessary truth of Christianity. As a pre-teen and young teen my religious identity and faith were given powerfully emotional contours by experiences at camp being effectively brainwashed through isolation, indoctrination, intense community, and emotionally exploitive appeals from idolized adults who took intense interest in me and took full advantage of my mental and emotional limitations to impress on me an absolutist mindset and a cultish allegiance to our religion.
By twelve years old, I remember trembling as I earnestly tried to give the Gospel to three of my Jewish friends at 3 am in a hotel room in Virginia on a secular camp trip. All throughout high school, the passionate desire to save others permeated (and I would now say corrupted) every friendship I had. Even my Christian friendships were tainted as I judged my friends constantly (though secretly) for their failures to commit completely enough to Christianity. In true cult form, the barrier of “saved/unsaved” stood between me and every friend who wasn’t one of my church’s style evangelical Christians. That alienating barrier also stood between me and the girls that I developed healthy, affectionate friendships with in high school, such that none of them could have developed into worthwhile romantic experiences even where there might have been mutual attraction, or at least its possibility. And my faith led me to mistrust my teachers, from the Biology teacher to the guest speaker trying to educate us about sex.
And out of a typically perverse Christian suspicion of my body, I loathed and feared my sexuality throughout my entire adolescence. Every erection was a cause for shame. My first experience of ejaculation at fifteen was a shock–I had no idea what that was–and it was followed by intense prayers of repentance and promises to God that I would never to do that again before I was married. At fourteen years old I was being “held accountable” for my sins as part of my youth minister’s “discipleship”. At that age, with my relative innocence, naïve youthfulness, and religiously obedience, what in the world did I have to confess but all my guilt over my masturbation?
But having it drummed in my head that I was a wretched sinner, confess I did, and with sincere shame and self-loathing, over and over for years to God, to friends, and to pastors. Even as a college junior, after being “convicted by the reality of sin” one night by the movie Devil’s Advocate (starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves–check it out, it’s awesome!) two friends and I started meeting to “confess our sins” and “hold each other accountable”. While the weekly sharing about our lives was therapeutic and extended well beyond self-lacerations over our “addictions” to a perfectly natural, healthy, pleasurable bodily function, that was certainly a huge (and ludicrous) part of our anguished, shared self-loathings.
It is little exaggeration to say that as a Christian I was like the pre-Reformation Martin Luther, perpetually obsessed with an exaggerated sense of his own sinfulness and wretchedness. Thankfully, I at least had Luther’s solution–I was completely convinced that I would never be rejected by God. So, no, dear Protestants, I was not self-loathing because I was legalistically trying to earn my salvation rather than accept Christ’s sacrifice. I just really believed those noxiously misanthropic teachings of Augustine about original sin and Calvin’s extra emphasis on the total depravity of my human nature. I believed so much Christian messaging about the wretchedness of my every immoral contemplation or unmarried lustful thought or deed that this extended into a general sense of depression, anxiety, self-hatred, and self-mistrust that I have never since come close to approximating as an atheist.
And you are a callous, unconscientious liar with defective capabilities for self-criticism or church-criticism if you dare blame me for this needless, emotionally debilitating psychic torment I suffered, which had me in arrested development emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and, I would even say, spiritually. Don’t even go there trying to claim this was some misunderstanding of the truth of Christianity or some failure on my part to simply internalize God’s love for me or offer any other such trite, dismissive, condescending, responsibility-evading rationalization. This is the natural, enormously frequent, and rationally expectable psychological and logical consequence of truly believing your every wayward thought is rightly deserving of hellfire as that supposedly “supremely loving” Jesus recklessly taught. This is the natural, logical consequence of a religious culture obsessed with prostrating itself in public and in small private groups, communally sharing intense, emotionally fervent, displays of repentance.
Most of the warping neuroses in my particular psychology were directly traceable to your unbalanced, distorted, and profoundly unhealthy doctrines about human nature and excessively self-destroying practices of self-cultivation.
And because I was so properly morally scrupulous as my faith required, I felt a great urgency to justify and prove my beliefs to non-believers. I obsessively devoted the bulk of my intellectual energies from 13-21 years old to defending my beliefs, both theoretically and in confrontations with non-believers wherever I could. I tried every strategy I could in order to justify Christianity and to make it coherent and rational and sensible as possible. But all my most earnest and scrupulously honest efforts to salvage the intellectual plausibility of the faith failed. And despite the intensity of the way that I had ordered my entire world–my friends, my studies, my worship, my goals, my loves, my community, my school, my recreation–all to revolve devotedly around the (allegedly) risen Christ, my honesty ultimately compelled me to admit that it was overwhelmingly likely to be false.
And my conscience over the pernicious potential effects of my false Christian beliefs played a key role in convincing me that having faith was unacceptably ethically dangerous. One of the best, most humane, and earnest Christians I knew was being ripped apart and pushed to suicidal despair because he internalized your baseless, bigoted, hatred of his romantic and sexual longings to be with men rather than women. And, worse, the contradictions I experienced in trying to follow your reckless advice to love him while hating his homosexuality were proving impossible in real life practice. The more I unconditionally loved and accepted him, the more comfortable he was becoming in his “sin”, the more I was enabling and helping this thing you had me hate to become a part of his identity he was comfortable having. So, foolishly influenced by that rotten book you call “holy”, I took Paul’s cultish, abusive advice and started contemplating whether I needed to “expel” my Christian brother because of his sin. I began intimating I might cut him off from our friendship at precisely the time he was, unbeknownst to me, becoming suicidal.
What reckless, destructive “love” you taught me, Christianity! What dangerous contradictory attitudes you put in me? And what good rational basis did I have for them? What good rational basis do you have for them? When I came to realize there really were none, then I had to reject faith in principle, since it meant believing without evidence and contrary to evidence, and beliefs not supported by reality and calibrated to reality can have severely dangerous consequences in reality. As an ethical matter, faith itself had to be abandoned as immoral.
Now, when I left the faith, I didn’t stop trying to justify myself. Now instead of trying to justify the rationality of the faith, I felt a perverse, co-dependent need to justify myself to the church that had such inordinate power and authority in my mind. Still susceptible to Christian categories of thought and blackmail, I felt tremendous pressure to prove that I emphatically did not leave because I just wanted to sin. I felt such pressure to prove that I left the faith because it was the most rational and moral thing to do–that it was the fulfillment of the moral commitment to the Truth that the church had taught me and not the frivolous abandonment of such commitment.
Today, I admit, I find it outright laughably absurd–the stuff of upside down and backwards days and Bizarro worlds–when Christians claim to be those most committed to Truth. And my head almost explodes when they go so far as to claim themselves its special possessor and guardian. Such claims are so stupefyingly un-self-aware, out of touch with reality, and false to their core, that the mind reels.
And yet as an apostate, I was motivated deep down by a desire to justify my commitment to truth to that very church for at least seven full years after coming to recognize that it was not really the body of a living supernatural savior who was Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but rather a rotting corpse of lies. Like an unloved child determined to prove himself to parents who didn’t deserve a lick of his energies, I was hellbent on explicating in meticulous detail precisely the psychological, epistemological, and ethical necessity that loving Truth should lead to abandoning Christianity. This was the animus at work in the first three chapters of my doctoral dissertation. This was what determined the course of my Nietzsche scholarship in graduate school the first four years I spent on it.
I needed to explain with unavoidable clarity what Nietzsche had shown me that led me to become an atheist. I needed to make sense of the ethical, psychological, and epistemological dialectic by which I had rationally come to abandon Christianity from an ironic abundance of Christianity. The logic of that process is articulated by Nietzsche himself and, I think, understanding it is one of the major keys to understanding Nietzsche’s entire work. So I spent the first three chapters of my dissertation making systematic, coherent sense of that dialectical logic and of Nietzsche’s critique of Christian morality as interpreted through that dialectic. (And, for what it’s worth, I take the entire “Three Transformations” section of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, from which the “camels” in this blog’s name is derived, to be a key to understanding both this part of Nietzsche and my own biography.)
And then eventually, once I came to see how ethics could be grounded as true and life-enhancing outside of Christianity in a systematic way, it became a crucial, motivating mission to me to prove that the best and most rational ethics is at least independent of Christian belief for justification and, at most, is vastly superior to Christian ethics in terms of both truth and goodness–insofar as they either must or in fact do conflict. And finally my initial motivation to start this blog was to put down in my own words, so that they are entirely clear, everything that is wrong and false and distortive about the faith that used to torture me that I may help to dissuade and liberate others from it.
So, in one way or another, as much as I have overcome and moved beyond Christianity in most of my life, philosophically answering Christian objections has motivated me for 13 years. Christianity has in one way or another obsessed this part of me my whole life. First as a religious commitment and compulsion and now, since deconverting, as a matter of opposing one of the world’s most powerful and dubious lies, one which requires systematic debunking that at least a billion people may think more clearly, rationally, and freely. Personally, I have moved well beyond letting Christian hang ups taint my mind or my ethics in most matters. I am no longer doing the painstaking work of creating a post-Christian identity for myself with little to no external guidance from other atheists. By the time I even found the atheist community (when I began blogging in 2009), I had already mostly grown into my “child” phase, my phase of post-Christian life in which my former Christianity no longer seeps into all the corners of my mind, contaminating everything.
But even when this drive to justify my atheism to the internalized Christian voices in my mind most obsessed me, the one thing I had no tolerance for, the thing that led me to explode, was the flippant personal accusation that somehow I was no longer a Christian because I just didn’t get it or I just didn’t love Jesus enough or I just wanted to sin or I had relied on myself legalistically rather than on God. Essentially, any cavalier, callous, ignorant dismissiveness of the absolute and exhaustive intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social, psychological, or ethical commitment I gave to Christianity was (and is still) a source of great indignation to me.
My livid temper tantrums aimed at believers were not due, as one commenter recently asked, to grief over losing the imaginary people of God and Jesus. 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 many key details 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 most 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 actually happened–because it didn’t. As far as my mind went, so many experiences with her just weren’t real. They were play acting. They were a fraud. 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 for 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.
When I get angry with Christians it is an indignation specifically triggered by and aimed at to those who dare question my personal sincerity, integrity, or thoroughness in leaving the faith. I had an unimpeachable commitment to the faith and especially, in the end, to the truth and to ethical principle. This is a matter of well-earned pride. I won’t have my conscientiousness called into question. I’m a seriously fallible thinker with serious limitations on my knowledge. I’m a fallible person morally in any number of areas. I readily admit to that. And, ultimately, I came to think that the views and dispositions I first replaced my Christian ones with were in many ways themselves mistaken.
But my deconversion itself is the one thing I know was an act of pure honesty and personal integrity and utterly sincere wholehearted intellectual, emotional, and spiritual investment. And I will not give any Christian the latitude to belittle that and go on claiming either friendship with me or a right to my further responses to them. My very dignity is very well wrapped up in this. Given the decades of control that the distortive, lying, manipulative Christian church had over my heart, my mind, my body, my family, my social life, my values, my beliefs, my goals, my sexuality, my love, my fear, my friendships, my very identity itself, I cannot bear to tolerate its attempt to judge my honesty, or my sincerity, or the depths of my former faith, or of the integrity of my decision to abandon it as unjustified.
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.
They have no right to judge me. I refuse to be judged by them. You, Christians, you have no right to judge me. I refuse to be judged by you. We can debate as equals. You can make whatever arguments you think lead to truth. But that’s it. You don’t get to try to pick around looking for spiritual wounds or “sins”.
Even as for years I have felt a need to still systematically explicate and justify my reasoning, in part so I could explain it to you and explain how I could have morality without your faith, etc., I do not submit the integrity of my deconversion for you to assess. Christians may challenge my ideas until they turn blue and pass out, and I will patiently as possibly try to return with philosophical soberness. But I will never again subject my personal integrity to the tribunal of the Christian church or its particular members for their approval. Never.
That’s the line.
Read posts in my ongoing “deconversion series” in order to learn more about my experience as a Christian, how I deconverted, what it was like for me when I deconverted, and where my life and my thoughts went after I deconverted.
Before I Deconverted:
How I Deconverted:
When I Deconverted:
The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:
After I Deconverted:
Before I Deconverted:
How I Deconverted:
When I Deconverted:
The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:
After I Deconverted: