I saw this piece about how life is better now that some folks are out of Christianity and it made me think about why I’m happy to be out. It might not be why you think, though.
I feel uncomfortable making too much noise about the matter. To me, it’s not a matter of “oh wow, thank goodness it’s not true because I really just wanted to bone without guilt!” I didn’t leave Christianity to sin. I left because staying would have been the sin for me. I didn’t abandon my faith because I wanted my Sundays back. I discarded it because it was not true.
These lists remind me a little of those lists you see sometimes from parents and non-parents alike about “reasons we’re totally glad we bred/didn’t breed.” And it’s totally okay to have such lists, but really when it comes down to it, people have kids because they want kids, and they don’t have kids because they just don’t want kids. It’s that simple. There’s no need to make a list about it. There’re lots of reasons I’m glad I didn’t choose parenthood. There’re lots of reasons my best friend is glad to have chosen it. I can see her list and understand it, and she can see mine and do so as well, but really, it’s not like her list is going to make me magically want to have kids any more than mine would make her instantly regret having them. And I wouldn’t want her to regret her life choice just based on such a list. These lists are just a look into a different mind, a different lifestyle, a different snapshot of a life lived differently, that’s all.
I’m concerned that Christians will see those lists and not understand that they’re just things said by people who have been hurt and abused by their religion who are just blowing off steam. I’m concerned they’ll think that we’re serious in saying that we’re glad to be out of the religion because we wanted to wear scandalous clothes or have lots of unapproved sex. While every one of the things on that list (and many others I’ve seen besides) is true for me and for many ex-Christians, if the religion were true and valid for us, we would still be in it even if it meant sacrificing one day a week for our hobby or not having the awesome sex we want. Christians tend to think people leave for superficial reasons anyway, and I need to say right here that no, such thinking is very wrong: people don’t leave such an invasive and threat-filled religion without a great deal of thought and consideration. It’s important to maintain perspective. We left because it wasn’t true, not because we resented blowing half a weekend on make-believe. Not having to blow half my weekend on make-believe is just a really nice side effect of leaving.
Probably the thing I’m the most grateful for and happiest about, with all that said, is that I no longer have to reconcile reality with my faith system. For many years, I followed a religion that makes a huge variety of truth claims. Even the most liberal and sweet of Christians tend to make a few of them. And none of them can be objectively verified to be actually true. But Christians are forced to parrot lies because to reject these truth claims means to invalidate their entire belief system.
I no longer have to worry about why the world seems to function as if there wasn’t a real “God” orchestrating any of it. I no longer have to wonder why so many Christians seem like just normal people, not inhabited by any divinities at all. I no longer have to ask those terrible questions of myself about why prayer doesn’t seem to do very much at all. I don’t have to delve into conspiracy-theory level sleuthing to explain why the world certainly seems like it wasn’t created in whole by a god in a week.
I’m free to hear an explanation offered by a theist, and not have to believe it because the alternative is just too scary to contemplate. I’m able to include “or I could be totally wrong and there just isn’t a god at all” in my calculations without feeling threatened.
I think that many Christians are in love with feeling certain about things that nobody can really be certain about, like the afterlife and whatever passes for divinity in their minds. If we were meant to be certain, we’d know it, because there’d be evidence for supernatural claims. And there just isn’t. Either we’re not meant to be certain, or else there’s just nothing there to be certain about. Either way, I just don’t trust anybody who seems certain about this stuff anymore. I’m free to allow myself to be uncertain.
And that’s probably what I value most about being out of the Christian religion: uncertainty. I value my uncertainty. I prize it. Uncertainty is honest. It frees us up to consider all possibilities. It keeps us from settling on something just because we desperately need or want it to be true. If someone says “Yes, this is exactly what ‘God’ is like and this is precisely what happens to us when we die,” be distrustful and be wary, because that person wants something from you. I’m okay with being uncertain now. I wasn’t before. That uncertainty was probably the biggest thing stopping me from leaving. But now I’m fine with it. It makes me ask questions and hear all the answers possible. It makes me look with slightly clearer eyes at reality.
Since leaving Christianity, I’ve learned to live in a world where reality is what counts. I’ve learned that if dogma brushes up against reality, then reality is what should win that fight. I’ve learned that there doesn’t need to be a fight between faith and reality, that it’s just weak people who need their faith to be objectively “real” in the sense that my coffee mug is real or my dear sweet mother-in-law is real. If their faith were really strong, they wouldn’t need to shoehorn reality into their faith like they do. I’ve learned to be hugely distrustful of any movement that prizes dogma over reality and that makes a cockfight between the two; I’ve come to think that religious leaders start these fights specifically because they think it’ll keep believers too scared to question the dogma if they think doing so might lead them out of the faith.
And I’m grateful that I can see something that doesn’t work, that never worked, that won’t ever work, and instead of insisting that we keep trying it over and over again, I can step back and say “Okay, so that doesn’t work. What does?” and find another solution entirely to try to fix whatever’s broken.
I’m free to say “Yes, let’s try this” or “Yes, let’s look at this” instead of “No! That’s not Christian!” Being free to say “yes” is incredibly liberating.
Most of all I am happy that I no longer have to struggle to reconcile my morality with my faith system. I knew even then that what my church called “love” didn’t feel very loving. I knew even back in my Christian days that I was annoying people and making them feel hated and excluded. But I persisted because I was told–and wanted to believe–that being “loving” meant reproving people around me and trying to control their lives. I was so glad to realize the religion wasn’t true, because it meant I didn’t have to treat other people that way anymore. I was free to use words the way they were meant to be used rather than in the weird redefined way that Christians so often use them. I learned what love was when I left Christianity. I learned how to speak up for the oppressed then, too, and hopefully I learned a little more how to love and accept people for who they are rather than what I wanted them to be. I absolutely am happy to be out of Christianity because of its rampant sexism, racism, and classism; I don’t have to struggle to ignore my inherent sense of justice and fairness with how Christianity taught the dead opposite.
Christianity wasn’t a valid religion for me. It may well be for others. I’ve met some wonderful people who were Christian and I’ve got Christians in my life who I love dearly. It just wasn’t the path for me. My life’s improved dramatically since leaving that religion, and those things I mentioned above are the main ways it’s improved. But they’re kinda side effects of leaving, not the main reasons I left. It’s important for Christians, when seeing such lists, to keep in mind that if the religion’d been true for us, those things we’re glad about now wouldn’t matter nearly as much. Mostly we’re just glad to be out of something that proved very untrue, harmful, and toxic to us. But these other things are important too–I mean, what’s a cake without icing?
And I still think we should make these lists, if for no other reason than that many Christians don’t seem to realize there are other options available for their lives. By seeing us out of the religion and doing all right, they see that yes, it’s possible to deconvert and be all right. By seeing us happy in our apostasy, they see that it’s possible to be a happy ex-Christian. By seeing us enumerate the ways in which our lives have improved, we show Christians the many ways that their own lives might not be as shiny and happy as they want to believe they are. Lists say a lot more than just their basic contents. They illuminate lacks and sore spots too.
We absolutely should make noise about why we’re happy to be out–and that we’re happier now. When I was a Christian, I thought non-Christians were miserable, angry people. I saw atheists who seemed pretty irritated all the time with me and thought that’s how they were all the time with everybody. I thought someone could only love another person with Jesus in the middle of them. I thought if someone didn’t have Jesus, then that person didn’t have peace or joy. Even now you see Christians accuse non-believers, especially atheists, of being angry or bitter (usually right after saying something incredibly arrogant or infuriating to that non-believer!). Knowing that there’s a whole bunch of us whose happiness and joy only increased after leaving? That’s got to be worth the price of admission right there.
Just knowing that ex-Christians exist–that people could dearly love “Jesus” and be very fervent Christians and still walk away from it all–is a challenge to many Christians, but we are the messy reality that gives the finger to dogma. And we need such lists; they are one entry into the fight between reality and dogma. And in that fight, to me, reality will always be the winner. I’m weird like that.
Oh, and yeah, the sex is definitely a lot better.
PS: Open mic night! Ex-Christians: Is there something you’re grateful or happy about since leaving Christianity?