Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about Christian marketing hype. One of the biggest promises Christians make to vulnerable marks is that their religion brings peace to its adherents. Last time, we saw that they have trouble defining exactly what peace looks like, much less outlining how recruits achieve it. There’s a reason for that trouble! The promise of peace is nothing but yet another false promise that leads to yet another bait and switch by these hucksters. And y’all, I found that out the hard way. Today, I’ll show you the chaos and misery that this false promise ended up wreaking in my life as a Christian–and what happened when it finally overpowered me.
(This tale gets kinda intense, and I truly and sincerely thank you all for giving me a space in which to share it. <3)
Flutterbudget: Out of the Frying Pan…
Even as a child, I tended toward anxiety and nervousness. This state of mind led to me getting lost in my worries, which in turn led to me not paying a lot of attention to the very real stuff going on around me, which in turn led to my dad nicknaming me “Flutterbudget.”
I got overwhelmed easily and quickly by too much unpredictability in my environment. My drastically low tolerance for frustration didn’t help at all, either.
When I became a teen, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) snapped me up. A big part of its appeal involved freedom from anxiety and fear. Oh, yeah, the idea of the peace that passes all understanding sounded like a glass of iced water to someone wandering through a desert.
It just dazzled me.
If I joined them, I’d never need to worry again! I’d feel no more fear at all! Jesus would take care of everything from then on. All I had to do was trust him–and of course I had to follow his instructions as closely as I could.
In fact, my leaders promised, it would only be when I disobeyed him that I’d ever have any reason to fear anything.
…And Into the Fire.
Later, I joined the United Pentecostal Church, International (UPCI). There, my new “church family” stressed this point even more than the Southern Baptists had. In fact, they taught that it was an out-and-out sin to worry too much!
This link sounds a lot like what I got taught about worrying:
- it betrays disbelief in the weird way the tribe interprets the Bible
- it’s a waste of Christians’ time that they could be using to Jesus harder
- it means the worrier’s lost sight of how wonderful Heaven will totally be
- it’s a direct insult to the childish, petulant Christian god
As you can see, anxiety and fear got demonized–and often, literally. My tribe took the idea of demonic attacks quite seriously. They really thought that demons stood ready 24/7 to take any opening we presented at all, and one of those openings happened to be those emotions. Christian leaders already taught that showing signs of anxiety meant someone was Jesus-ing all wrong, but now we had demons added to the mix!
At the same time, however, I was discovering that my new-found and all-consuming faith was doing anything but freeing me from my own anxiety.
The Bait and Switch.
As Christians eventually discover, it turns out that telepathically communicating our fears to the ceiling doesn’t actually do anything to alleviate them.
At best, Christians’ exertions might produce temporary euphoria–as one dear friend of mine, Marf, discovered. She prayed and prayed for an end to her depression. She’d achieve a breakthrough, be totally delivered from her ailment, and then a couple of weeks later she’d be right back at the altar call praying for another breakthrough. (If I lost you with all this Christianese, see the endnote.)
Her anguish tore at my heart. I was studying psychology at the time, and even I wanted to tell her to visit a real therapist for help instead of praying! But she wouldn’t hear of it.
If “Jesus” heard us at all, though, he sure wasn’t doing anything about any of our concerns.
One writer asserts, “I believe God will use our fear to draw us closer to Him.” Hm! Maybe that’s why Christianity itself seems to breed so much of it: this godling is an evil bastard who thinks it’s awesome to allow his children to feel great fear without telling them why or helping them over it. (Isn’t it just so weird how often Christians accidentally tell us really awful things about themselves and their magical wizard friend in the sky?)
Already prone to anxiety, I discovered a whole new level of horrific fear in fundagelical Christianity. It didn’t begin with fears of Hell. That fear got taught to me as a Catholic child, then honed to razor sharpness in the SBC church I briefly attended. The Pentecostals added to it a new terror of missing out on the Rapture. Then, they turned up the heat with fears of demonic attacks and oppression.
Even if I didn’t buy into the fears of demonic attacks like my peers did, that’s still a lot to add to the plate of a young woman already experiencing problems with anxiety.
Welcome to Your Panic Attacks.
So I had some big, big worries. Like all Christians who buy into the idea of Hell, I lived in terror of it. And like all Christians buying into the Rapture, I feared missing it. Those represent some really big fears.
Of course, lots of smaller ones abounded. I feared that I had bought into the wrong flavor of Christianity, so I was always looking out for groups that seemed more like the mythical “Original Christians” I sought.
And any Christian who thinks that a god really communicates via prayer has reason to fear mistaking his voice. Indeed, my church thought that Christians could receive beamed-in thoughts from both our god and demons. In addition, we could imagine whatever we heard (if it was just us, it was called fleshly or of the flesh). No functional way existed to definitively tell the difference between any of these three sources.
Once we get past the 100%-imaginary sources of anxiety, we move into the ones produced by Christianity itself–just by the ideology as a whole. And there, I experienced stress unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Much of it derived from the overwhelming amounts of sexism and injustice permeating the religion. The rest came from how different reality was from my beliefs about it.
I began having anxiety attacks.
And then, panic attacks.
In my helplessness and fear, I began clamping down hard to try to control everything about my environment that I could.
Worse yet, though, was this: as my fears and stress mounted, the already-vague methods of dealing with them that Christians were actually allowed to use became less and less effective.
Welcome to Your Anger-Management Problem.
While my fears ramped up, so did my anger.
The funny thing is, I never thought I had any problem with anger management. I thought of myself as a sweet, easy-going person. But I really wasn’t.
Like most very manipulative people, my then-husband Biff himself was a past master at needling people and provoking them to great anger. He loved doing it; he called it “yanking chains.” Once he became Christian, he thought that Jesus helped him do it. It reminds me now of those Christians who think that anyone who gets peeved at them is just being dazzled by their Jesus Auras.
I don’t think, however, that any gods who valued love would have approved much at all of the fights Biff and I had. Cuz y’all, we fought like two cats in a pillowcase.
It was anything but peaceful.
Welcome to Your Rage Blackouts.
Sometimes I got so infuriated with Biff that I literally lost time. I’d come to my senses again much later after a fight feeling totally exhausted and drained, with no memory of what I’d said while in that state, and Biff stepping lightly around me.
(Later, I’d learn about a state called “blackout drunk,” and I’d recognize myself in that description. Experts still debate whether “rage blackouts” exist as such, but I can tell you that what I experienced sure felt like that.)The level of anger I experienced scared me very much. And I was always two inches away from it.
No matter how hard I prayed, I couldn’t seem to get over it. No matter how often I “gave it all to Jesus,” it kept on coming back.
As a woman, of course, I fell under some very specific extra expectations with anger. Neither Jesus nor those strict rules mattered, however. Some part of me that still belonged to me refused to accept injustice and cruelty as the price of everlasting life.
And sometimes I marveled at how different my situation was from the marketing. This wasn’t peace. I knew that. I just didn’t know what to do about it–yet.
Who to Blame.
It never occurred to me, of course, that I was following a bad recipe for life. I’d been told these certain ways of finding peace, and I did those things. When I didn’t get the promised results, I blamed myself–exactly as the hucksters I trusted had taught me to do.
Considering how long Christian hucksters have pushed peace as a marketing gimmick, it simply didn’t even occur to me that it wasn’t true. How could it be? Wouldn’t someone have, ya know, noticed that it wasn’t true?
Well yes, but let’s face it: For many centuries, Christian dissenters feared for their lives. I came of age during a part of this religion’s history that is very nearly unprecedented: when it’s way more safe to express criticisms and doubts of Christianity and its leaders. So even as I struggled to reconcile fantasy with reality, marketing hype with the product I’d purchased, I didn’t know anybody had ever felt and thought the stuff I was thinking and feeling. I thought I was unique in all the world.
If I’d been in that situation, that struggle, today instead of 25 years ago, I wouldn’t have taken nearly so long to come to the conclusions I finally did. As it was, I had to begin the process of deconversion from scratch. I had no idea where my doubts would finally lead, nor what form they would take at any given step. And I took each of those steps in a world where literally everyone I loved believed that of course Jesus was real, Hell existed, and all you had to do to find peace was simply ask the ceiling for it.
And at every step my fears mounted, and “Jesus” didn’t do diddly squat about them then, either.
That Last Night.
I’ve told you about my very last night as a Christian. Finally, one truth permeated my fear and anger: Something true doesn’t need lies to sell itself. Suddenly, so much stuff began falling into place. Click-click-click like dominos being played, many years of observations began smoothly sliding into place: snick-snick-snick like Wolverine’s claws, snicker-snack like the Vorpal Blade.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, though, the sheer terror I felt that night as it happened.
All those fears–Hell, losing my morality and sense of compassion, dying and oblivion, you name it–bubbled to the surface in that one horrific night. They competed with those click-click-clicking observations and the slowly developing jigsaw puzzle of reality itself forming before my mind’s eye.
On my knees, I wept and sobbed and prayed aloud till my voice cracked. I begged–shamelessly like a child, my hands clasped–for something, anything, to keep me in the faith.
And I received the same answer that millions of other ex-Christians have:
Cold, dead silence from the quiet night air.
For hours, I wrestled with my fears–and finally, pushed past them. My terror simply grew too great to handle. I threw a Blue Screen of Death as my beliefs finally got totally overwhelmed. I crossed the Despair Event Horizon.
(PS: TVTropes walkabout warning!)
What happened next felt like this:
Wonder and love and great sorrow shook Schmendrick the Magician then, and came together inside him, and filled him, filled him until he felt himself brimming and flowing with something that was none of these. He did not believe it, but it came to him anyway, as it had touched him twice before and left him more barren than he had been.
This time, there was too much of it for him to hold: it spilled through his skin, sprang from his fingers and toes, welled up equally in his eyes and his hair and the hollows of his shoulders.
There was too much to hold, too much ever to use; and still he found himself weeping with the pain of his impossible greed.
He thought, or said, or sang, I did not know that I was so empty, to be so full.
The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
And At Last.
At last, the storm ended. I lay quietly in my bed. There, I calmly came face to face with what I’d actually kinda known for a long time: Nothing in Christianity was true. I’d believed and chased after lies for my entire life.
None of it was true. No gods, no demons, no angels, no magic or miracles, no wondrous golden castles in the sky after I died.
I was too tired to do more than observe these truths and vaguely marvel that I’d ever missed them, as obvious as they were. Whatever came next, would come as it pleased. It’d be whatever it’d be. I’d deal with it then.
Then, just before dawn I felt this curious and strange sensation.
I felt empty–poured out. Drained. But not depleted. Instead, I felt like every cell in my body buzzed, just vibrating with something new that had never before been part of me. Now, as exhausted as I was, I felt powerful. Like once I’d recharged, which I knew would happen as surely as I knew the sun would be up soon, I’d be unstoppable. Rather than exulting in that power, I simply knew that it was true.
I’d never felt like that before, ever.
It took me a long time to identify what it was.
What It Was.
Finally, it came to me:
I had finally found peace.
After years of struggle and torment, I finally knew what it was. I’d never encountered it in Christianity–never. Not once, not ever. I thought I had, but I’d been wrong. Now I knew, and I would never be fooled again.
This sensation belonged to me after and outside of belief. It was the first feeling I can say for sure I had after deconversion.
Who’d’a thunk? Peace began with accepting reality, not with clinging to stuff that wasn’t real.
Sure, it would be a long time before I finally found freedom from anxiety, but now–now, now, now–I had at last set off on the first step of that journey. I could finally see the road I needed to take.
NEXT UP: How I finally found peace–after deconversion, and with no thanks to Christianity. Thank you for traveling this road with me. I could not do this without you. Thank you. And I’ll see you soon! Mwah!
Quick Christianese: A “breakthrough” involves praying and then feeling like Jesus actually got off his ass and did something for a change. Usually, “breakthroughs” happen after a long period of prayer to induce major emotional tension. Christians use the word “delivered” to mean magically healed of stuff that isn’t specifically an illness or injury. You get “delivered” from emotional states and conflicts. They also say prayers “bounce off the ceiling.” They mean that it feels like their call to Jesus didn’t go through. “Altar calls” happen after a sermon. Everyone swarms the front of the church and there’s kind of a Christian mosh pit that forms as people pray, babble, weep, dance, and hop around. Sometimes these things get REALLY rowdy. (Back to the post!)
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