I’ve mentioned before the Pentecostal-yardstick act that erupted whenever I or someone from my church met another Christian, haven’t I? When meeting someone new, I couldn’t just be happy to know someone new and get to know that person. I had to figure out if that person needed saving–or correction on incorrect doctrinal points. Was this person Christian or not? If Christian, what sort? Did he or she believe in water baptism or sprinkling? Oneness or trinitarianism (sorry, Neil, but you were going to Hell long before you deconverted, at least according to the folks at my old church)? Holiness or worldly dress? Rapture before the Tribulation or after it or during it? This examination and comparison could get really detailed, as you can imagine. People often get way more hung up on their differences than on their similarities.
Once I deconverted, people had to figure out what I did wrong, and that effort continues to this very day. Something about coming face-to-face with an ex-Christian brings out the yardsticks in some Christians. And I know why they do it and why they must do it. I don’t hold it against them, either. They’ve been taught their entire Christian lives that anybody who rejects Christianity obviously did something wrong or weren’t really “real” Christians. So today I want to briefly talk about some of those things.
I’ve noticed that there are a lot of Bible verses that Christians use to give themselves permission to mistreat others. Surely one of the worst offenders of the lot is 1 John 2:19:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
Context is everything here, though. If you go read the actual chapter this verse comes from, you’ll quickly see that it is presented as part of an apocalyptic warning about that time being “the last hour,” cautioning believers about all the “antichrists” that were circulating around during those last frenetic days before Jesus’ triumphant return. It isn’t talking about people who deconvert from Christianity. It’s talking about false prophets who were pretending to be on the level and who were deceiving innocent and gullible believers by feeding them the wrong information. You’d never know this fact, though, from the Christians who use this verse to negate the life experiences of ex-Christians by claiming that clearly we had simply never “really” been Christians at all, because if we had been, we’d still be Christians. I’m pretty well-educated about flavors of this religion, and I don’t know of any Christian denominations that take that verse any other way or use it in any other way except as a way to negate ex-Christians’ experience.
The problem is that to the Christians doing this negation, Christianity is seen as a perfect system. When a system itself is regarded as perfect, then anybody who doesn’t do well with it is going to be seen as the problem. It doesn’t matter if the system is a multi-level marketing scam, an uncommon diet, or a religion, the philosophy is that “the system works, if you work the system.” Anybody who tries the system and rejects it for whatever reason simply did something wrong. And the true believers in that system feel compelled to figure out what that thing must have been. It’s a challenge to them and their ideas about this system being infallible and perfect.
It doesn’t matter if that error is really what happened; once it is arrived at and decided upon, then all the people remaining in the system can breathe easy. Hooray! Now they know what that person did wrong. Now they can all relax. They’re not doing that thing wrong, so obviously they will never leave or reject the system. Best of all, they can still believe that their system is perfect. Whew! And needless to say, whatever that error is, they are in no danger whatsoever of committing it. They would never do X. They would never fail. Ever. This works until they realize what’s going on and reject the system as well (as touching religion, I don’t know a single ex-Christian who would ever have thought before deconversion that such a thing could ever happen to him or her).
Even weirder are the ones who give these declarations to me as if once informed of what I’ve so obviously done wrong, I will immediately gasp and cry out “Oh wow! I never thought of that!” and reconvert, this time dedicated to doing everything right so I don’t stray ever again. These sorts of scenes are famous in romance novels–“What?!? You really did that bizarre thing because you totally were in love with me and I just misconstrued everything?!? I had no idea!” the heroine cries, and swoons into her misunderstood sheik’s/playboy’s/Highlander’s/pirate’s arms, now that the confusion has been cleared up with a denouement scene that explains everything. Such dramatic denouements are a little less common–and plausible–in real life.
So yes, total strangers have taken it upon themselves to inform me of what I obviously must have done wrong to make me reject Christianity. They all present their theories to me as if they were the very first people to ever do so, and yes, it is hard not to roll my eyes or reply sarcastically to their earnest declarations of psychic ability and prescience. It’s nothing more than an attempt of Christian cold reading, after all; they’re making guesses and hoping that something sticks. That’s all I can fathom after surveying the list of mistakes they are convinced I made as a Christian:
* I wasn’t liberal enough. I was too literalist.
* I didn’t attend church enough so my discipling suffered. I attended too much and missed the “relationship” part of Christianity.
* I got sideswiped by the misogynistic elements in Christianity and became too complementarian. I got seduced by feminism and became too egalitarian.
* I had too many friends who were in the wrong denominations and they got me all confused. I had too many friends exactly like me so I lived in an echo chamber.
* I didn’t speak in tongues often enough. I spoke in tongues at all.
* I didn’t study the Bible enough. I got too caught up in studying the Bible.
* I didn’t have enough mentors so I gave myself too much authority to work out Christian concepts. I had too many authority figures around me so I never figured out things for myself.
It gets downright insulting when they go into “you never really really really loved Jesus” territory, when I know that I did. I was 100% totally in love with this nonexistent, mythical character, obsessed with finding him, obsessed with reaching him and communicating with him and touching him and knowing him. Any One Direction fangirl understands exactly what sort of “relationship” I built up with this character. That’s why I kept plunging into ever-more-perilous waters–that’s why I stayed in the religion as long as I did. I wish Christians knew how destructive and counterproductive such accusations are, and how genuinely unloving it is to accuse someone of such a thing. It’s so easy to find out if I did or didn’t love Jesus just like they do now: they could just ask. But they never do. They always just assume. I guess that the nice thing about assumptions is that the people most guilty of making them don’t often feel the need to challenge them. And nobody likes to think that it’s more than possible to love someone or something that turns out to be a mistake later. In that kind of Christianity, nobody is allowed to change their minds.
Such Christians will also ignore entirely my insistence that no, actually it wasn’t “bad Christians” that made me deconvert. It wasn’t any bad treatment I ever got from any Christian, though it’s telling that this becomes the go-to excuse I get from them; even they know that a lot of Christians mistreat people. Nor was the problem inadequate parking, too many sports activities on Sunday, or any of the other insultingly superficial excuses I hear from Christians trying to explain these deconversions. But even after I say so, these Christians remain utterly convinced of whatever easy, glib explanation they think they’ve come up with–excuses that they themselves would never find satisfactory, but which they think they can pin onto me like I’m some kind of idiot or fool.
You see what I mean? When Christians are presented with the exact same ex-timony (that’s a word some of us ex-Christians use to describe the story of how we deconverted), this is the sort of bullshit I get back from the ones who desperately need to find something, ANYthing, that they can use to negate what I have to say. And not a single Christian has come up with the real reason: because I discovered that Christianity wasn’t true, and I couldn’t be part of a group that treated people the way so many Christians treat people if its claims weren’t true.
I find these assertions to be insulting to my intelligence and integrity as a human being. The people saying this stuff don’t care about what I have to say; they just want to dismiss me. They don’t care about really communicating and conversing with me; they just need to negate me so they can continue to feel correct and smug in their bubbles, and that’s all they’re in the whole discussion to do.
(Saddest of all are the people who failed to live according to a system but who still believe wholeheartedly in its value and truth; they beat themselves up for failing to live up to those ideals, never even realizing how flawed those ideals truly are. Or those people who don’t realize that if a system was genuinely perfect, that it would never produce so many perceived failures.)
Like the fact of evolution confounds a literalist view of the Bible’s creation myths, the fact of ex-Christians’ existence confounds a literalist view of 1 John 2:19. If evolution really happened, then the creation myths simply could not. If I am an ex-Christian and did everything right, then the standard interpretation of 1 John 2:19 can’t be true. Christians’ negation of my story says more about them than they do about any ex-Christian. It took me a long time to figure that out. It wasn’t about me, it was about them and their need to believe in something they think is true even at the expense of treating another person with disrespect. I consider these constant attempts to negate ex-Christians’ life experiences to be one of the black marks against the religion as a whole; way too many Christians simply can’t accept that the system won’t work for everybody. This phenomenon–which just about all ex-Christians have experienced, by the way–is a symptom of the sickness of the religion.
I wish Christians would quit trying to psychoanalyze me or ferret out some secret reason why I deconverted and just trust that I read all the right books. I did all the right things. I prayed enough. I read the Bible. I attended church. I was sufficiently gung-ho about Jesus. I lived the way they think Christians should live. I knew about a number of Christian faith systems and if I’d thought there were any redeeming features to the religion, I could have made it work somehow. But I didn’t see any.
What I have to say now matters more than figuring that stuff out anyway. When someone’s that focused on finding out what I did wrong, I know that person is desperate to find some easy way to negate me. That person isn’t wanting a real conversation, but rather to find something to use against me.
And I don’t think that’s very loving. Considering the stakes for Christians if they don’t behave lovingly toward their neighbors, I’d say there’s a cause for concern here.
I’m leading into this topic because next time I want to talk about this idea of “loving” Jesus, especially with regard to having left Christianity. That guy who did the popular “it’s a relationship” video a while ago has been rearing his head again on the tubes, and I think it’s time to take a look at the topic. See you next time!