I know it’s hard waking up one day and realizing that your faith and practices have mostly been off base at least a little bit. For you, the fundamentalist, the wake up call is obviously that Donald Trump was president. I admit that I entertained the idea for a couple of weeks, but then I saw him in action. I still have nightmares every once in a while.
As far as transitioning from being a fundamentalist, I can relate. I was a Southern Baptist once and pastored a few churches for about 20 years. Actually, I never admitted to being a Southern Baptist, but I served in some of their churches.
Since you may be considering transitioning to a more sincere spirituality, and like me, you don’t have any idea how that works, here are some things to consider. I hope it helps.
1. The Bible. Since you’re used to taking the Bible literally, just take it literally for real. It condones a lot of bad things, it contains some contradictions, and it never said it was the word of God or that it was inerrant. Now that you don’t have to defend it anymore, you can accept it for what it is, a useful book written by man. It’s not your rule book for life any more…just breathe..feel better?
2. Angry God. Beware that once you give up on things like eternal conscious torment, many things will start coming unraveled. But, also things like love will make much more sense to you now and other things will become much more beautiful. Let someone hold your hand through the first few months, because it’s a little scary to give up on retributive God, but in the long run, you knew that wasn’t true anyway.
3. Church. For about 1,500 years, we have been told that we need to go to church. Over the years, many of us realized that the church was abusive and wasn’t really doing much that we couldn’t do for each other. Realize that you have a low grade addiction to church, because that is what it is designed to create so that you want to come back. But, just realize that everything you need can be found outside the walls without giving a tithe and without driving anywhere. Try it for a year, and then if you have to go back, go back, but don’t let anyone guilt or shame you and think for yourself.
4. Healing from trauma. Everyone has some trauma from life and we store it in our bodies. In the last 100 years, we’ve been learning a lot about what causes trauma. It’s not a character called Satan and it’s not demons within us, it is the stored, unaddressed issues that life has dealt to us. The church promise to help us, they thought they could help us, but they generally did not help heal our trauma. In fact, in many cases, they made it worse. Religion also teaches bypassing of our feelings, while most therapies realize the best way to heal our trauma is to feel it, and to be with the pain until it can shift to something better. Get some help and realize most of the advice you got in your previous life was wrong.
5. Going Inside. One of the biggest mistakes that fundamentalism taught us was that we couldn’t trust ourselves. Even though Jesus said the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God was within us, they twisted that and wouldn’t let us know that we are all accepted by God and that our true self, our higher self, is within us. And we can trust it! If you want to go back to the Bible, there are many verses about God being within us. The most beautiful people I know today are people who have spent time going inward, not looking upward. I dare you to give it a try.
6. Spiritual Leaders. Even though the New Testament told us that we were all a kingdom of priests, over the centuries, churches convinced us that we need special clergy to supervise our spiritual lives. Especially in the 21st century, this is absolutely not true. We can go inside, and we also have access to so much information. For counseling, we can see a real counselor or a spiritual director which is something different than what you think. It’s basically someone that listens to you deeply. I learn the most now by having conversations with people, which never really was allowed, especially while the pastor was giving his sermon, haha.
7. What about sin? When I left my denomination, I think they all assumed I would slide down some slippery slope into a pool of sin. Didn’t happen! Not even a little bit. I cuss a little bit more, but I don’t even think that’s wrong. And I realize my “sin” was mostly me trying to numb the pain of my trauma. Since I’ve begun addressing my trauma, outside of religion, I have less desire to do harmful things that numb my pain.
Adventures are always a little frightening when you begin. So realize, your legs will be a little shaky from doing the same things for years and not exploring your spirituality. But, very soon, you’ll see vistas you’ve never seen before and new horizons that only lead to new adventures. In the process, you will discover your authentic self and you will learn how to be present and live in the now. That may not mean a lot to you now, but it will soon!
I wish you well on your journey,
Be where you are, be who your are,
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!