I’ve got the turkey in the oven at last (we’re moving a bit late at Casa Cas today; I was up till the middle of the night squealing with glee over today’s cooking extravaganza–menu will follow at the end, and you are welcome to join in with your own if you like!) but I wanted to say something that is on my mind today about the idea that people should “just leave” abusive religions.
Earlier today, I saw on a message board some description of yet another abuse that women endure at the hands of Christianity. The responses kept coming: “Just leave! Why would you ever put up with that?”
And I realized something I had never realized before that moment.
You know, it’s not like we don’t all want to say something like that when we see abuse happening, whether it’s a domestic-violence situation or an overly-controlling romantic partner or an abusive religion. Our impulse is to boggle about how anybody with sense would ever stay in something bad for them.
But this is not a helpful thing to say to the victims of religious abuse.
With the really zealous religions, the faith system is embedded in every single aspect of a believer’s life. “Just leaving” can entail losing a family via shunning, getting thrown out of one’s own home, being abandoned by parents, getting dumped by a spouse or partner, losing one’s job, even being threatened or physically harmed. At the very least it means walking away from a deeply-connected community that was part of every single day of a believer’s life.
“Just leaving” can also mean consigning one’s soul to eternal torment, separation from one’s god and loved ones forever, and unending physical torture, depending on exactly what flavor of Christianity one is “just leaving.” And why exactly are we “just leaving?” What, over a few years of unpleasant treatment at the hands of fellow believers who will, according to most types of Christianity, either magically become wonderful people after death anyway when their god magically strips out all the bad facets, or will be sent to Hell themselves and be unable to harm the believer after death, so who cares what they do for a few short years?
“Just leaving” can mean calling into question one’s entire life and allegiance to the religion. It can mean losing everything. And it’s just not that easy.
It’s worth noting that out of all the ex-Christians I have ever met, it was not abuse at the hands of the religion’s tenets or its people that caused any of them to leave. We left because it just wasn’t true*, which made the abuse no longer something we could endure. We may not have realized that the abuse happens because the religion isn’t true, but until we realize that the religion isn’t true, we can’t “just leave.” Sometimes the abuse is what makes us wonder about the truth of our chosen religion, but it’s truth that we do–and should–care about most.
Very often, I hear Christians level the claim at ex-Christians that it was “mean people” who made us leave, implying that the apostate did in fact “just leave” when abuse was uncovered. I’m sure there are some Christians who did “just leave,” even if I’ve never met them myself or talked to them. It’s a big world!
But the admonition to “just leave” also seems to frustrate the people who want to stay to try to reform the religion. It’s astonishing to me that anybody would want to do that, but it’s their right as adults to spend their finite lifetimes as they wish as long as they’re not hurting anybody. It’s their right to decide when enough is enough. When they’re working hard to overhaul the worst abuses of their religion, it can come off as really dismissive and unkind to be told to just give up and walk away.
I’ve been guilty of saying “just leave” in the past to people like that, but I don’t think I ever will again. Instead I think I will say this:
“That sounds very abusive to me. Why would a valid religion need to do that to people?”
Thanks for joining me on Turkey Day today. I give thanks for a wonderful and thriving little blog community, for my friends, for having the resources to put a good meal on the table, and for having made my roll to disbelieve.
Here’s my menu. What are you having?
Turkey, homemade cranberry jelly, stuffing made with homemade Tuscan bread, roasted-garlic mashed potatoes, broccoli with fried garlic slices, sweet corn, roasted onions and carrots, whole-wheat rolls, a salad with walnuts and apples, and cornmeal-apple cake.
* The term “true” here can mean objectively true or philosophically valid. Most of the really abusive forms of Christianity tend to take on the idea that their ideas have objective truth value as well as ultimate philosophical validity (as with fundamentalism’s debunked claims of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy, its insistence that hitting kids is a great way to raise them, or its position that women shouldn’t have equal opportunities as men have).