I know that when someone talks about how awesome life is after leaving Christianity, there’s a risk that some Christian–eager to ferret out the “real” reason we left, as if the ones we actually give aren’t good enough and we’re total liars–will seize upon what’s said and insist that we left Christianity to sleep late or to have unapproved sex without guilt or to join a rock band.
But you know what? Let them. I’m going to list a few things that are awesome about a post-Christian life. None of these are why I deconverted. NONE, let me repeat! NONE NONE NONE! If I’d thought Christianity was true, then I’d have swallowed my distaste and continued despite the serious costs. What I’m about to describe are not reasons I left, but rather awesome perks now that I’ve left religion behind. I didn’t even realize fully just how awful it was to be a Christian till I got over that indoctrination. What follows here happens more in the conservative branches of Christianity than the mainstream, but I see traces of these elements in even the “nicest” branches of the religion.
Here are just a few of the positive changes I’ve experienced since leaving Christianity:
1. My income shot up immediately–and it was a lot more than just 10%!
I was a tither. Not only did I tithe, but I tithed my gross income because my pastor preached that if I did that, I’d get gross blessings. That’s right; “God” not only notices if someone tithes and keeps track, but knows if you’re tithing your pre- or post-tax income and doles out blessings accordingly. Not only did I tithe, but I sponsored a kid in Africa and also gave “love offerings” as directed to visiting missionaries. It’s just astounding how much money I gave Christianity–and on a starving student’s income! I could ill afford that generosity. In return for the many hundreds of dollars a year I tithed, I’d find a $5 bill on the sidewalk and be convinced it was from “God,” who’d noticed that I was starving hungry that day and had no money to buy food right then. As blessings went, that’s less of a return than a simple coincidence that anybody’d get, but Christians are trained to see everything like that as a return on their investment-tithes.
Not tithing was terrifying. We got taught that people who didn’t tithe were doomed. The Biblical myth of Ananias and Sapphira, from Acts 5, was a big favorite around several denominations. In that myth, this couple held back money from Peter and were both struck down dead by a bolt from the blue. What a marvelous, wonder-working extortionist we followed. Nice life you’ve got here… be a shame if anything happened to it, wouldn’t it?
Church leaders are well aware that tithes are absolutely essential to their continued existence. This doctrine is pounded into most Christians from earliest childhood with guilt and fearmongering. When I was a young Catholic, I only had the vaguest idea of the connection between people’s tithes and the church’s electric bill, but even then I always asked my mother for a little money for the collection plate because even if I couldn’t tithe, I was taught that believers had to give money to their churches. It wasn’t till much later that I connected tithing to personal income that I’d personally earned. Certainly none of the churches I attended made that distinction clear.
Out of all the doctrines in all of Christianity, the importance of tithing may well be the most universal of them all. And I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I still think charity is important, but I can give my money where I think it’s best used, according to the need I perceive, and to groups I can select myself. (Here’s a great place to start.)
A decent religion would not use fear, shame, guilt, and terror to make its income.
2. I get to sleep in on Sundays if I want.
If I want to wake up super-early and go for a walk, I can, or I can sleep as late as I want on my days off. My weekends belong to me now, not to anybody else. My private free time has become more important to me as the years have gone by. If I’m not being paid to be somewhere I really don’t want to be, then guess what? I don’t have to be there.
Christians themselves seem to be coming to that realization as well–as we’ve been talking about lately, attendance is already way down even among believers. Christians frequently say they go to church regularly, but they oh so totally don’t. That’s because church is starting to look as irrelevant to them as it does to non-Christians. Christian leaders are flailing if not outright panicking about how to fix the problem of falling church attendance, with most of their guesses (“get more ritual-driven and simplified!”) sounding somewhat contradictory (“get more touchy-feely and connection-driven!”). Or they take the easy route and blame the Christians who aren’t attending for some personal or spiritual shortcoming. The end results don’t change either way. I can see why attendance is down; nobody likes to be around hypocrites, drama stirrers, and judgmental asshats, and church culture as a whole features glittery natural veins of ’em all.
I don’t have a dog in that fight. I just know that because I’m a non-believer, I’m under no obligation whatsoever to go somewhere I don’t want to go. Sometimes, on a weekend morning, I’ll wake up, realize that exact fact, and go back to sleep because I totally can. This works until the cat figures out that I’m awake, at which point the air fills with the song of his people–but you get the idea, I hope.
If Christianity were a decent religion, sleep would be one of its holy sacraments.
3. The sex is one thousand trillion billion times better.
Yeah, I’ll go there. I’ll say it. When I was Christian, the sex was horrible. My private parts were treated as currency to be exchanged for favors from my husband and doled out only very carefully. Sex was guilt-filled, inept fumbling between two people who’d been taught for years that it was a horrible devaluing experience–until our wedding day, at which point it magically became divine and perfect. Of course, during church services, preachers from the pulpit often raved about how awesome “godly sex” was. I even said so myself in proselytizing, and I even believed that it was–because I didn’t have enough experience to know better. For a culture that is supposed to be way above having sexual feelings, religious extremists are the most puerile, sex-obsessed teens-at-heart that I’ve ever encountered in my whole life.
I am routinely astonished that I put up with that bullshit for as long as I did. No wonder Christian men prefer marrying virgins; virgins are a lot less likely to have expectations and standards around sex. (Yes, I have a very special hate hard-on for the misogynistic assholes who write stuff like this bit of dreck about how “christians are not called to have amazing sex,” as well as the guy who writes those banal, trite “Men are from Mars” books.)
No wonder Christians often think “sin” is a synonym for “unapproved sex,” and immediately accuse ex-Christians of leaving over “wanting to sin.” Even they know that there’s something there to want. Even they know that the Christian view of and teachings about sex are bad enough that someone would leave the religion over it.
And they would be correct.
I don’t know anybody who deconverted over sex, but frankly, that seems like a perfectly valid reason to me now.
Even years after leaving Christianity, many of us ex-Christians suffer from all kinds of hangups and problems relating to intimacy. A lot of times we didn’t learn the stuff that our peers in “the world” did about boundaries, self-respect, trust, and timing–and often our knowledge of simple biology is ludicrously lacking (I had an argument once with a male churchmate who didn’t believe that women have urethras too). I always felt simply miserable that I was not the “hot, chaste virgin babe —> hot, sexually-available Christian babe wife” that my culture promoted–and still promotes.
So I’m not ashamed to say that Christian sex was ghastly and really messed my head up, and that sex is a whole lot better now that I’ve recovered from that indoctrination. I’m glad I have a life now where I can love and enjoy sex and where I can accept that for me, a good sex life is part of my overall life satisfaction and something that I personally value and strive to maintain.
No good religion would ever denigrate women’s bodies or demonize sex, or tell women that their sole value consists of what’s between their legs.
4. Cause and effect work again in this post-Christian universe.
I can’t tell you what a goddamned relief it is that magic is no longer part of my thought processes.
The funny thing is that since deconverting, life’s been pretty good. I’ve had some bad stuff happen–some of it really bad–but I really couldn’t say that any of it feels or sounds too out of bounds compared to what Christians face. If their god is doing anything in anybody’s life, he is certainly taking incredibly great pains to make sure his efforts look exactly like making no effort at all.
Another side effect of reality-based living is that I no longer have to worry about what a “god” wants me to do or not do. My church prayed about everything, including where to eat lunch! (Years later I’d meet this tabletop gamer who insisted on making reaction rolls for literally every single social situation his character was in.) I never understood exactly how to tell if it was Jesus, a demon, or my own self or peer pressure telling me what to do, but back then everyone around me was quite sure.
As near as I ever figured it, the answer I thought I got in prayer was the right answer as long as it was totally supportable by some Bible verse and meshed completely with what my husband and pastor thought the answer should be. What’s the use of asking questions during prayer if you have no idea what the answer to it is or if you might as well just ask your
masters oh hell with it masters what you should do? It was so staggeringly stressful and frustrating!
When I wonder what to do now, I can ask myself–and take inventory of my abilities, resources, and desires. Funny thing is, life works about the same. I was the one deciding what to do all along; I just didn’t realize that prayer was just a way of focusing myself to consider the things I was praying about. I understand tarot cards and horoscopes work much the same way.
If some fact emerged that contradicted its dogma, a good religion would change the dogma instead of drilling down on it.
5. I’m responsible for myself and nobody else.
It sucks being a woman in Christian culture. Not only are you the whipping-child and maidservant of every man in the culture in most flavors of the religion, but you are also totally responsible for the reactions and behavior of every man in the culture. I want to ask: which is it? Are men spiritually best-suited for controlling and managing women? Or are they little man-children who cannot be trusted not to whip their dicks out every chance they get and rape everything in sight if women don’t take care to shrink-wrap every single thing men encounter?
Women get indoctrinated with this bizarre double-standard–obey, but also totally manage and emotionally burp the men all around themselves–from their earliest childhood. Their bodies are maligned and treated like thermonuclear weapons; they are taught that even the littlest hint of skin or the slightest show of sexuality can totally enrage and madden men, whose desire to rape is barely held in check at any given time. Even little girls’ bodies are sexualized in Sunday School materials in “modesty” courses; they are taught that they are somehow responsible for their own victimization all the way through their abstinence-based miseducations and their weirdly incestuous Purity Balls and “courtships.”
Since deconverting, I’ve figured out that I’m a grown-ass adult, as are the people around me. We are all responsible for ourselves. No matter what the provocation is, my reactions and my behavior are completely my problem and my responsibility. I do not accept responsibility for other people’s reactions and behavior, and I do not accept that any victim of abuse is in any way responsible for his or her abuse. I do not blame victims for their own victimization. I do not allow predators and abusers off the hook when they try to use excuses for their hypocrisy–especially those victim-blaming excuses they’ve been trained to use since childhood.
And life’s gotten much easier since I realized these truths and abandoned this unreasonable, totally inappropriate burden. I dress for me, not for what I think men will think. I act the way I think is appropriate, not the way I think the men around me will think is “nice.” I don’t make the huge mistake of thinking that “modesty” will protect me from those supposed hordes of barely-restrained godly rapists (who turned out not to exist in such great numbers either).
On that note, isn’t it weird that a culture that uses “personal responsibility” as a bludgeon for punishing women who have unapproved sex would be this thoroughly incapable of applying the idea to its own menfolk?
A valid religion would make sure to never blame victims or excuse abuse, and it would hold wrongdoers totally responsible for themselves.
There is so much more to my post-Christian life than just this stuff–so much more!
I can use my own intuition and trust myself to know what’s best for myself. I can trust my own feelings about things rather than allowing others to tell me how they think I feel. I can trust science and the scientific method to figure out what’s true and what isn’t. Every day is new potential–not another scary day of spiritual warfare. I don’t have to apologize for buying stuff that’s frivolous or purely for my own enjoyment, or for liking the stuff I like. My emotional needs are valid again. If I’m depressed or sad, I can be depressed or sad without having to paint on a smile for anybody. I’m not on perma-salesperson mode, always looking for opportunities to sell Christianity. I don’t have to weep and get distraught over the idea of my “loving,” “benevolent,” “forgiving,” “merciful” deity torturing my friends and loved ones for eternity, or work myself into knots figuring out how Hell fits in with those attributes.
Best of all: I don’t have to fib to make my life sound better than it really is. I fudged the truth more than I like to remember as a Christian and deluded myself on a number of points. I won’t ever do that again. Total honesty is the most important facet there is to my post-Christian life.
Christianity’s claims aren’t true. That, let us not forget, is the main reason I’m not a Christian. But barring that, even barring that its claims aren’t true, even taking those claims in a metaphorical, mythical sort of way, I wouldn’t go back to that shadowed half-life. This religion burned away everything that was good and precious about my life. I won those things back at very high cost. When Christians proselytize at me, they need to know that first, I know what they’re saying isn’t actually factually supported at all, and second, they’re asking me to step back into a life that made me miserable. Based on the support Christianity has for its claims, that is not happening no matter how many veiled threats they make or how much they insist that they do Christianity the “right” way.
What’s sad is that so many Christians–especially the really obnoxious and loud ones–seem miserable like I was, and either don’t realize it or think they have to endure misery because the alternative is Hell and they’re more scared of Hell than of a life spent in misery. My solution to that terror was knowledge and distance–but it took a lot to get to the point where those became viable options. I wish they knew that I can hear the fear in the back of their words, and I can hear it because that same quavering note was once behind my words. Because I stopped fearing the things they fear, I could move past that oppressive culture and into a life full of hope, joy, and potential.
We’re talking about fear next, and I hope you’ll join me.