NOTE: If you come from an evangelical background and feel anguish you are not alone. Here’s proof! I get 20-30 emails and FB messages a day from readers of my new book expressing anguish over their religious backgrounds. I answer all of them. I learn more from my readers than they learn from me. Here’s one exchange I found very moving. (Printed here by permission, name changed.) Take hope.
Sat, Aug 16, 2014 12:26 pm
Frank: It is such a relief to get to share my head with someone. I am not sure if it is my personality of trying to keep peace with everyone around me, or what, but I tend to hold my true feelings inside so as to not create a scene… This is what being raised in the southern Bible belt will do to you…
If it is ok, I will share my head for the first time to anyone. If this seems like I am dumping on you I am sorry. This is not my intention, but from the connection I got from you I feel like you are someone I can trust to at least read this. It seems a bit odd to me that I am doing this, but I am desperate to break out of this depression or repression or whatever the hell it is…maybe it is just that– hell.
I was raised in a Christian conservative home just outside of —, TX. I will assume that just being raised in this part of the country my parents unconsciously bought in to the fundamentalist Christian propaganda. I went to a Christian school all the way through high school. I attended a Baptist church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and anytime there was anything happening at the church. These man made ideologies infiltrated my being and I was slowly growing “in the wisdom and stature” of a born again male chauvinistic American Christian patriot. I will break down my confusion and into a slow un-learning…
Sex, Marriage, Guilt and Happiness
“Don’t have sex until you are married.” This half-assed statement did prevent me from promiscuity prior to being married, but it has caused a lot of confusion, depression, guilt, and anxiety. I was taught that sex is only good when you are married, that if you wait it will be the most amazing thing. But until then it is horrible.
Buying into that, I waited. However, they did not tell me to wait to get married. So I got married at 19. Why? because I was a teenager that was told I couldn’t have sex until I was married. It’s like 2+2. I got married.
My wife is a great woman. But we aren’t a great match. I crave affection, she craves isolation. We work through it.
To add to all of this we had 4 kids in the first 6 years of marriage. This part is amazing: kids. Our marriage is hard. What I can’t get past is the information I received on how I need to make it better. “Go to this conference, pray more, pray together, read your Bible, just trust Jesus to work it out.”
Damn. My mind is spinning with all this. I am not sure if it is crazy or I am crazy. It hasn’t worked. Yes, I can fake it. But I believe that faking it is the reason I am where I am. To be clear, I will never leave my wife. She is a great women, and a great mother, and for that I love her deeply.
I am told that depression is a sin. Unhappiness is not right. Well, fuck. I am a screw up. My anxiety is unnerving. Waiting on an “answer from God” is like that moment in the operating room waiting on the newly transplanted heart to make its first beat, except it is all in slow-mo. Cross your fingers.
This was a bad word growing up. But I was taught to hate, I just couldn’t actually say the word. It is all so confusing, God is love, love your enemies, love your neighbors, pray for those who persecute you and so on. I would hear that followed by: “but don’t hang out with them,” they dress weird, or they are Mormon, or they are gay, or they are Democrats, or they drink, or smoke, or have sex.
Funny thing is, I was allowed to hang out with the kids of embezzlers, tax evaders, gluttons, liars, adulterers. God, it is so ironic. I love people. I have realized that people are human. And the most human people are the ones that aren’t trying to hide that they are human.
This is hard for me. I am a “leader” in my church community. I don’t really know how to put this into words. It is so religious. I love your line in your book, “Religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure.”
I am told to ask people in my community if they miss a service, “why did you not show up?” It seems more beneficial to be human and ask whats going on in there life which is secondary to the fact that I should already know.
It’s like God is this corporation. I go and give my time and money, and maybe I’ll get promoted a few times. I just don’t want to be a part of religion. I strive for this in my small community, fail at it, but I guess faith keeps me trying…
I love the part in the your latest book when you are talking about prayer. The Jesus prayer is one of the only comforting prayers I pray these days. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is all I have time to spill right now. I need to feed the kids! I appreciate you letting me be human. It means a lot. Hopefully it wasn’t all confusing. Sometimes the gap between my brain and my fingers becomes a blender.
I am honored by your letter, honored to be trusted, honored that my new little book has meant something to you, honored to meet a fellow “struggler.” (Did I just invent a word?) Of course since you read my new book you know I’ll have no easy answer for you like “pray more.”
You and I know that there is no answer to the reality of being primates driven by biology and yet something more… something that says we’ll stick by wives and kids in spite of everything because we are animals but animals with spiritual empathy! Go figure!
We’re stuck XYZ. But just admitting that then keeping on is a kind of redemption. We may be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic but at least neither of us is lying to ourselves. Maybe we can’t find final answers let alone perpetual happiness but we can at least be truthful.
Eventually you’ll have to move on from your role as church guy, but don’t be in a hurry. I’ll bet you are passing on more certainty to your kids than you have! That’s okay but you owe them a look into your heart too. Otherwise they will be mired in the same circle of false acting out what they will come to know deeply is not true.
Since you read my latest book I’ll not rewrite it here… you know what I think about embracing paradox. All I’d say is do more than that, at some point let the embrace of paradox lead to changes in your life…
I like you are hanging onto a marriage that you say is less than perfect, maybe bad in ways. I admire your realism. Fact is there is no starting over in life. You are wise to make a go of what you have rather than believing the lie that there’s a better way just over the horizon. And of course since we are primate males we want other sexual partners so when we are honest we know that part of our brains are looking for excuses, which in your case, you have given the early marriage– something we share.
Enjoying my grandchildren more than anything I’ve loved in this life I can safely tell you to keep the family together, not because it is the “right” thing to do but because the deepest pleasures in my life come from a place that would not be there if I’d smashed the continuity of family for all its faults and second guessing.
BTW I’d love permission to publish your letter on my bog… not under your name.
I say this not to put you on the spot but because other people need to know they are not alone. And (truthfully) you are a really good writer!
Your letter is a perfect essay that cuts to the heart of the sickness afflicting the entire evangelical world. Will you let me share it? If so under what name? There’s nothing to ID you in it, since what you say has happened to so many… which is just why they need to know they are NOT alone!
Love and Best,
Frank: On your question about publishing my letter.
I must say I am humbled at your kind words. What’s funny is I have wanted to be a writer since I was in 3rd grade. I went to college for it, but then marriage and babies. Taking care of them financially became more important, and worth it. I am slowly getting back into it. Been working on a piece for a while but who knows.
Back to my letter, I have great hesitation. I have never shared this with anyone.
After reading and re-reading what I wrote and trying to imagine that what I wrote might be helpful… I think it would be alright. Changing my name would be appreciated, and maybe leaving out my location. Is this cowardice of me? Here comes my evangelical propagated mind again, ha…
If you are comfortable with posting it on your blog then I give my permission.
Thanks for the love and support,
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
Available now on Amazon