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the righter you get it

October 30, 2011

People coming out of a life of faith face a whole lot of challenges. Often our leaving costs us all or at least most of our friends. Our support networks vanish overnight and we have to learn how to build new relationships from scratch. Without a written moral code, we find ourselves dropping long-held beliefs and values on the table, picking each up in turn for examination as we decide which deserves a place in our new lives, which are due for revision, and which we will discard. The victims of spiritual and psychological abuse so prevalent (some would say inherent) in Christianity, we – and our poor children – often have to navigate a prolonged period of fragility as we begin the slow journey to recovery and wholeness.

Unbelievers tend not to understand us. For those who have never been susceptible to religious sentiment, it’s almost impossible to comprehend its appeal. When we finally find the courage to reach out to non-believers and seek new  relationships, it can be difficult to find a way of engaging wholeheartedly. Often we are reluctant to share our backstory for fear of being misunderstood or even despised.

It is a pretty rough ride – and sometimes a frightening one – but even at its bumpiest and most scary, it’s a journey of joy and wonder. I’m not the only one who has found that coming out, walking into a world of intellectual truthfulness, embracing a new found agency, and growing towards a healthy and functional adulthood provides a thrill that makes all the difficulties seem almost irrelevant.

And while I’m terribly sad that some very precious friendships were not able to survive my transition to a life beyond faith, I understand that everything has its time. So, in reality, I don’t mind too much that my new atheist friends may sometimes misunderstand me or even that my old Christian friends reject me. But there is something that really gets my goat…

First, some backstory…

It’s a common misconception that fundamentalism is a wholly anti-intellectual exercise suited only to humourless ninnies who are incapable of thinking logically or independently. That’s not how I remember it. I was for more than 20 years a wholehearted worshipper of Christ. I devoted my life to loving Jesus, finding out what pleased him and then living it with a whole and joyful heart. Knowing and loving my Saviour and sharing his sweetness with my children was the dearest thing to me. Sure, I didn’t always manage to live up to my own ideals, but I believe my motives were pure.

My then-husband had studied to be a minister so our home was bulging with Bible translations, commentaries, books on theology, and hermeneutic helps. My children remember me studying the Bible surrounded by more than a dozen open volumes. They also recall that I always first submitted my understanding to God in prayer. I genuinely wanted to know what God thought on any matter. If you could show me that God desired me to do, think or act a certain way I’d have crawled over broken glass to do it. On the other hand, if I couldn’t see a thing in Scripture, I wasn’t one to rush off following what Christian leaders or friends were doing even if they could make a strong case for it. When my best friend and her family became Amish and she and her girls all started wearing cape dresses and head coverings, I agonised over the Bible to see if I could agree with their new practice. I ended by saying that it would break my heart that my worship might not be pleasing to Christ because I was inappropriately attired, but that I just couldn’t see either uniformity of dress or the necessity of head coverings for contemporary women in Scripture. Had I been able to, I’d have frocked up in a flash.

Clearly it was beliefs that will seem strange to many led me to hold this attitude of obedience to the principles of the Bible. Essential to this sort of faith life is (a) believing in the existence of God, (b) believing that he is in fact the Christian god and (c) believing the Bible is his inerrant Word, revealing his will for his people. Although we all know of fundamentalists who are stupid, stupidity is not a requisite and, in fact, the vast majority of my Christian friends were very clever. But once you are convinced that God is real and that he has provided us with a book that contains his will, it’s impossible for those of us who love Christ the way I did to ignore what God apparently says on a matter. Or to cherry pick the bits that suit us. For us, either the Bible is God’s Word or it isn’t. Either he means us to do what he has said, or he doesn’t.

This is not to say that I was a Bible literalist. I was well acquainted with hermeneutic principles. I understood how to interpret Scripture in light of context and originally intended meaning, and was able to intelligently apply these and many other orthodox hermeneutic guidelines to my Bible study. I was not one of the King James 1611 club but used an New American Standard Bible and a parallel Bible containing four further versions, and referred to numerous other translations regularly. With more than a passing understanding of the nuances of interpreting ancient texts, I was not one to knowingly take a scripture out of context and apply it thoughtlessly to my life. Decisions about Christian practice were taken seriously in our home. Jesus was our example who didn’t hesitate to obey the Father but even gave up his own life in obedience. Christianity, I had often been heard to say in those days, could be summed up in two words: ‘Yes, Lord’. To the best of my ability I lived what I believed.

What was that about a goat?

So I find lately I’m seeing red when continuing Christians who were pretty Quiverfull but not quite so QF as me imply that the reason my family was so damaged by our faith (and possibly the reason my faith has now died) is that I was doing it wrong all along, that I was obeying scriptures that were not meant to be taken seriously. Or, as in one recent conversation, the implication was that had I only had access to an obscure and, I was assured, more accurate translation of the Bible, I’d have known that God didn’t intend, for example, for women to obey their husbands. I was assured in the ‘right’ translation, women are never actually instructed to obey in this way.

With respect to those sincere believers, in my view the Bible is clear that God intends his followers to obey his instructions, particularly those that are plainly reiterated many times in Scripture.

19This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away,he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.   (Book of James, Chapter 1, NASB)

As my friend Vyckie Garrison has said, QF women like we were simply took biblical Christianity to a logical end. Just as James advocated in the verse above, we were doers of the Word. Not as unthinking automatons but as servants of Christ whose motivation was to know him and please him in every aspect of our lives. This seems extreme only because most Christians don’t choose to follow Christ’s instructions so wholeheartedly as we did. I freely acknowledge that my faith in the Bible was at the root of the destruction that was wreaked in my family, but I contend that we experienced such destruction because we were getting it right – at least, more right than your average liberal Christian – and not because we should have chosen more wisely which particular sections of the Bible to obey, or because we should have sought longer for a translation we could tweak to suit our existing preferences.

And speaking of goat bothering, I have known more than one Christian woman to comment, ‘I’m so grateful God didn’t lead me down the path you went down!’ At best these statements seem rather heartless, at worst they display an appallingly smug arrogance. If that’s how God plays the game, clearly he’s a very nasty fellow indeed. If he takes those who love him most and tricks them into living their lives in obedience to him without qualm that that obedience will certainly lead to misery and shame, he’s not a god I would choose to serve. I know I wouldn’t have understood or lived my Christianity perfectly, but if you are following the Creator of the universe with your whole heart, wholly open to his leading, you’d think he’d be at least powerful enough to give you a gentle shove in the right direction. By all means structure your Christianity so that it doesn’t destroy you, just don’t claim you aren’t picking and choosing in order to keep your nice Jesus while defending yourself from the real truth of your religion which, done properly, will beat the crap out of everything you hold dear.

So that is why I sit where I currently do. My faith conversation runs like this: I figure, either God exists or he doesn’t. If he does, he’s either the Christian god or he’s not. If he is the Christian god, then either the Bible is his book or it isn’t. If the Bible is God’s book…I want nothing to do with it or him. So, yes, this probably qualifies me as a true apostate. I am, for now, willing to acknowledge the (remote) possibility of the existence of a kind of supernatural something or other. However, if the Bible is his Book, then I choose him not. Let the dice fall where they may, I cannot find Christianity by the Book compatible with functional adulthood. Indeed, in my view, the righter you get it, the wronger you may turn out to be.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Arthur permalink
    October 30, 2011 4:19 am

    Wow! I completely understand where you’re coming from on this. I too was raised in a legalistic cult. It took me years, but I finally came to an understanding that there is no way a human, no matter how devoted or well-intentioned, can achieve the perfection that was held up as the goal. The church I was in had rules and laws for EVERYTHING. And if there wasn’t a rule for it, they’d be happy to make one up on the spot.

    They were so obsessed with getting it right that they completely lost sight of God.

    When I left, I didn’t set foot in a church for 25+ years. I was soooooo close to calling myself an Atheist. Then I found a pastor who, like me, was also raised in a legalistic cult, rejected it, and now ministers to people whose spiritual lives have been destroyed by single-minded dedication to serving the stern God of Perfection, who is never satisfied regardless of what you do.

    I also agree that there are parts of the Bible that are in error. Accepting that truth was a major turning point in my life. I believe there is much truth in the Bible, but also some error. The same applies to holy books of other religions as well.

    Someone once said there is no such thing as a good hand-me-down religion, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. I cannot worship God with someone else’s spirit, nor with someone else’s truth. Therefore I worship God with my spirit and with the truth that I have.

  2. shadowspring permalink
    October 30, 2011 4:25 am

    “But once you are convinced that God is real and that he has provided us with a book that contains his will, it’s impossible for those of us who love Christ the way I did to ignore what God apparently says on a matter. Or to cherry pick the bits that suit us. For us, either the Bible is God’s Word or it isn’t. Either he means us to do what he has said, or he doesn’t.”

    This was arrogant and foolish when you believed it, and it remains so. There are plenty of people who believe God is real, who love God with all their hearts, who do not think that any part of the Bible other than the words and life of Christ are meant to be taken seriously. From its first century beginnings, Christianity was about following Jesus- not Moses, or Elijah or even the apostle Paul.

    Fundamentalists dismiss those serious people, in love with Jesus, believing in his resurrection and indwelling communion with all who seek Him, as “cherry-picking”- which you also did and still do. You think you’re frustrated leaving the faith?! How about being told by everyone that your faith isn’t serious, or real by the majority of so-called Christians (should be called Biblians) on the one hand, and that you are merely an immature person who believes in an other-worldly imaginary friend on the other? Now that is being mis-characterized on all sides.

    Why do you think that because a council of human, patriarchal men gathered in the early common era and voted on a committee proposition that these books make up the Bible means that God is obligated to uphold their decision? Or that their decision was divinely decided? How on earth did that committee meeting become equated with the “will of Jesus”? I have read his words over and over, and nowhere does he establish anything at all resembling the organized religious hierarchy that is the religion Christianity.

    Does he speak of hierarchy? Yes, he says it shall not be practiced by his followers. Does he speak of being born again? Yes,he describes it as a spiritual mystery that can not be controlled by men, like the wind. Telling people that if you say these words, and really mean them, this will happen to you, is men claiming to control that spiritual mystery. Is there any place where God divinely manifests a physical presence to equate Moses, the prophets and the apostles with Jesus? No, but he sternly does the opposite- proclaims that Jesus is above Moses, Elijah and the apostles- on the Mount of Transfiguration.

    It is ludicrous, in my mind, to say that Jesus is bound by the committee decisions of people claiming to follow him, hundreds of years after his incarnation, death and resurrection. Fundamentalists have turned so many people away from Christianity, you included.

    So, I do not buy the premise that in order to believe in Jesus, have supernatural divine encounters with Him, and follow Him that I must therefore swallow the entire Bible wholesale without critical thought. That’s just bullshit.

    I hope you find much happiness, in this life and the next. I personally believe you probably will. If what I believe about the character of Jesus/God is true, then any person who believes they are obligated by Christianity to equate God with the genocide, capital punishment, misogyny and slavery found in the Old and New Testament, must renounce Christianity. None of those things are compatible with the words of Christ, though they are clearly proclaimed as the will of God in other parts of the Bible.

    I find fault with Christianity, and the Bible, but not with my Lord Jesus Christ. The new command He gave –“love one another as I have loved you”–is the lens by which everything else in the Bible must be viewed, and then either discarded or embraced as it lies in harmony with Christ. I believe that was the meaning behind John’s revelation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

    • October 30, 2011 3:53 pm

      Hi Shadowspring – 🙂

      I believe this is the first time I’ve seen you state that only the words of Jesus are to be taken seriously. I was not aware of your variant take on historic, orthodox Christianity.

      When I was a Christian, I came to several conclusions (via logical thought, personal study and plain old common sense) which deviated substantially from what I thought of as “so-called Christianity” – universalism being among my favorite “heresies.”

      When I entered into that year-long correspondence with my atheist uncle, Ron – I let him know from the outset that I was not a “typical Christian” and therefore he should not presume to dismiss my well-considered personal faith in Jesus as readily as he rejected Christianity in general. I was confident that my understanding and practice of the Christian faith was something he’d never encountered or considered.

      Imagine my consternation when Ron – even after learning of my rather exceptional personal testimony and detailed explanations of my Christian apologetic – referred to my faith in the goodness of God as “irrational, irresponsible, and atavistic.” 😦

      Turns out – despite my particular cleverness – he remained unconvinced.

      I really, really wanted Ron to understand and recognize that *my* Christianity was different – it was not religion, but “relationship” – and I did not accept anything “on faith” because I *knew* that Jesus did indeed rise from the grave – because I had considerable evidence that He was living in my heart and manifesting His grace daily in my life.

      Imagine my chagrin when, years later, I read this insightful piece by Greta Christina: – I hope you’ll read it – I recognized myself throughout the article as that was the story of my correspondence with my Uncle Ron.

      Thanks for sharing your unique perspective. All the best to you.

      • October 31, 2011 4:53 pm

        Vyckie, I cannot speak for Shadowspring– but I read your Greta Christina link, and my response would be this: It doesn’t bother me if atheists think I’m wrong, or think that all religion is harmful. I dislike it when atheists use that belief as the basis to try to “evangelize” me to the good news of their lack of faith– but neither you or Jane have done this. The only thing I object to (and I think it’s what Shadowspring is objecting to as well) is that Jane appears to be saying that Shadowspring and I are not really serious about our faith, becauseif we were serious, we would obviously believe what she believed about the Bible and would follow it like she did.

        I’m not looking for atheist approval. I really don’t care whether atheists think my belief in God is just as silly as any other belief in God. But Jane said it gets her goat when Christians say the reason she had so much trouble is that she was “getting it wrong.” Isn’t claiming that the reason I’m NOT having the trouble she did is that I’m getting it wrong, the same thing?

        If you and Jane have both decided that all forms of Christianity are mistaken and harmful, then I can see the frustration with “You just got it wrong, but my form of Christianity is the accurate one. If you’d been following the real faith you’d be happy.” So why say back to us, “You’re just getting it wrong, because the form of Christianity I rejected is the accurate one; if you’d been following the real faith you’d be unhappy”? Does that make any more sense?

        Jane, it does seem to me that once you’ve rejected Christianity in all its forms, it wouldn’t matter to you that one group thinks their version is more “real Christianity” than another group’s version, or even that they think you might have taken less harm from their version. When I said I thought my understanding of the Bible was more “nuanced,” that was not the same thing as saying, “you should come back to Christianity and follow my version.” I was simply saying that there were other ways of reading the Bible than the fundamentalist way, and that it might be something of a straw man to show it in its worst possible light as the reason for rejecting it.

        I do think that for those who do believe that the Bible should have some bearing on how we live our lives, there might be merit in considering a way of interacting with it that brings more of what the religion purports to bring: peace, mercy and love. But as far as atheism is concerned, that’s neither here nor there. We can agree to believe one another is wrong, but as Ms. Christina said, we can still interact amicably in a mutual goal of helping people whom religion has placed in pain and misery.

    • October 31, 2011 10:25 am

      Shadowspring, I’m not sure if you are willfully misunderstanding my post but I did try to make the point that neither I, nor any fundamentalist of my acquaintance, ‘swallowed the Bible wholesale without critical thought’. I’m not attacking your personal faith beliefs per se, I’m criticising biblical Christianity such as I knew it, and a belief in the Bible as the Word of God. You can believe in anything you like and I won’t complain. even if, as it seems, your faith differs somewhat from orthodox Christianity. The point is that what is ‘ludicrous’ to your mind, will make perfect sense to many other Christians. And not only that but they will be able to find biblical justification for it in some translation or other. In common with all religions, there is no concrete evidence that any of your beliefs are grounded in fact. You are welcome to your beliefs, but you won’t find me a convinced by any argument that is based on the Bible.

  3. October 30, 2011 4:51 am

    I hear you,Jane. On the other hand, this is what gets my goat:

    “This seems extreme only because most Christians don’t choose to follow Christ’s instructions so wholeheartedly as we did.”

    The implication is that because I interpret the Bible differently than you did, I’m not really following Christ. Not with my whole heart, anyway.

    Is there a way we can get around this impasse? I have no desire to “get your goat.” I respect you and feel for you in all you went through, and I have no desire to try to draw you back to the “fold,” since it was so toxic for you.

    And yet the fact remains that I no longer see in the Bible what you saw, and this isn’t because I decided to become “lukewarm.” I don’t mind if you think it’s because I’m just plain wrong about what the Bible is actually all about– but I do mind if you say it’s because of my lack of “wholeheartedness” as a Christian.

    Is it ok with you if I disagree that you and Vyckie were taking the Bible to its “logical conclusion”? Is it really my plain disagreement with that which makes you “see red”? Or is it about a smugness that I assure you I DO NOT feel towards you or Vyckie? I’ve been where you were. I was in a dominionist-shepherding cult. But the fact that I changed the way I view the Bible rather than rejecting it entirely, really is not a judgment against you or Vyckie or anyone else. It doesn’t make me a “liberal” Christian who’s really not very dedicated to her faith when all is said and done. . .

    • October 31, 2011 10:03 am

      Kristin, I have no memory of you saying you were glad God didn’t lead you down the QF path. Those comments came from others so far as I knew. Perhaps I just don’t remember rightly. But I maintain the comments, whoever they came from, reveal an attitude that’s either heartless or smug.

      I made no criticism of the biblical Christ – just biblical Christianity. Neither did I question the sincerity of your faith. I’m sorry if the term ‘liberal Christian’ offends you. Most of the Christians I engage with around political issues wear that badge with pride. Had I landed somewhere in that camp when I was became a Christian at 19 our lives may have been very different. Or perhaps not because once I started reading the Bible…

      I acknowledge that you are absolutely free to build any sort of belief system you like on the basis of any book you choose or simply of your own device. However, your insistence that your ‘nuanced’ interpretation of the Bible (as you have called it elsewhere) is more valid or credible than a more orthodox methodology is open to argument. We will need to agree to disagree that your way of reading the Bible is better than mine or anyone else’s. Your voice is only one of tens of thousands, all with their own particular spin. As much as I am able to respect your right to hold your own beliefs, I am not inclined to value yours as necessarily more credible than any others.

      QF doctrines about large families, the submission of women, and the physical discipline of children did harm my children. But they will tell you that they feel most damaged by the doctrines of sin, grace, judgement, election, prayer, holiness, heaven and hell which they learned from the Bible and at the (mainstream and sometimes Reformed) churches we attended. Our views were commonly held, orthodox and, we then thought, lovingly and quite gently applied. It is my view that Christianity is broken, that a loving Christian parent can damage a child’s psyche by building her family’s life around that faith. I believe that Christianity that fully embraces those doctrines is not compatible with a fully functional adulthood. I know to be intelligent and thoughtful, Kristin. I acknowledge that you have found a way to keep your faith. I just have no experience of that and indeed, knowing what I know, am not even able to imagine it.

      • October 31, 2011 11:19 am

        Jane, you’re right, it wasn’t I who said I was glad God didn’t lead me into QF. I, too, think that’s a smug and compassionless thing to say. The term “liberal” Christian does not offend me either; what I had a problem with was that you reiterated the same thing fundamentalists say: that anyone who doesn’t practice the extremes that fundamentalists do, is not as committed a Christian; that taking the Bible seriously must lead inexorably to fundamentalism; that the only reason we haven’t either become fundamentalists or left Christianity in disgust is that we “didn’t follow Christ’s teachings as wholeheartedly” as you did.

        It doesn’t bother me that you don’t think my methods of reading the Bible are any more credible; but you are mistaken if you believe they are not “orthodox methodology.” As you explained, you also used to read the Bible with a view towards historical context, etc. It is not our methodologies that differed. It was something much more basic than that. I will be writing a post on my own blog soon that explains what I think the difference is, if you’re interested; but it has to do with the presuppositions we take to the text in the first place. I do not, for instance, think “Yes, Lord” encapsulates Christianity. I don’t think that Christianity is all about obedience, or that the Bible is essentially all about what God’s will for our lives is.

        It’s absolutely fine with me if you don’t think my view is more credible than someone else’s. Everyone thinks their own view is the most credible; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t hold that view. But I do object to the idea that I hold that view because I’m just not as committed as fundamentalists are.

        You said, “Neither did I question the sincerity of your faith.” I’m glad that you didn’t intend to; but that is the import of words like this:

        “we were doers of the Word. Not as unthinking automatons but as servants of Christ whose motivation was to know him and please him in every aspect of our lives. This seems extreme only because most Christians don’t choose to follow Christ’s instructions so wholeheartedly as we did. I freely acknowledge that my faith in the Bible was at the root of the destruction that was wreaked in my family, but I contend that we experienced such destruction because we were getting it right – at least, more right than your average liberal Christian.” Emphasis mine.

        What this says, actually, is that if I’d been a more “wholehearted” Christian and “gotten it right,” I’d be either living in misery and fear, or gotten fed up and become an atheist. I understand that you didn’t intend to question the sincerity of my faith– but in fact, that is exactly what your words more than questioned– they denied.

  4. Louella H permalink
    October 30, 2011 7:48 am

    That must have been so hurtful to hear those things from continuing Christians. xx

  5. October 30, 2011 12:34 pm

    Really, Jane, your article reflects pretty well my experience of Christianity, too; both the way I felt compelled to live it out and the results of those decisions.
    Even though some people have taken your point of view as a personal attack, there still remains the fact that our beliefs were scaffolded by Christian leaders using the Bible as their basis creating a permeation of every aspect of life, so that we constantly monitored, screened and edited (and also re-constructed) every thought, motivation and deed – ‘casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.’
    This is not your personal opinion. To follow Christ with all your heart, soul and mind is the call of all Christians; to please him the ultimate goal. Jesus himself said “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets…whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments…shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
    Bravo for a well written piece.

  6. Doug Steley permalink
    October 30, 2011 5:30 pm

    Great article Jane

    Finding atheism after religion is a long and difficult process.

    While I still have many friends who have faith in various religions and gods I find on the whole the atheist community a lot more open and welcoming.

  7. Forrest permalink
    October 31, 2011 5:38 am

    It only gets better. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and school, and I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten to a place where I no longer consider someone else’s theistic moral code as having any relevance to my life or emotional well-being. We’re of two opposing schools of thought now, so I’d might as well get worked up over… German politics. They both have an effect on my humanist sympathies, but it’s difficult to become morally invested in either.

    The two realizations that allowed me to break from Christianity with a clean conscience were
    1) I didn’t believe in a god that spread his word through the warmongering that is the most prevalent theme throughout history, Christian history being no exception
    2) I didn’t believe in a judeo-christian god who allowed millions to live and die before they had a chance to hear about christianity, and were destined to hell because they never could accept christ. Especially the poor folks who were killed by christians in war. That part really got me.

  8. bamboobends permalink
    October 31, 2011 6:20 pm

    Great article. I’ve walked this path myself from a very fundamentalist sect. My experience was somewhat different in that I started awakening to a consciousness about God that differed from the religion I grew up in. I was taught that God was a blessings and cursings type of being, do the right things and the world goes right, do the wrong and God curses your endeavors. In short an algorithmic god, a clockwork computer god in the sky. Put the right input in out comes the result you desire. This kind of thinking led people in the religion to think of sick people as sinners and wealthy people as being blessed by god. Neither was true. We see this kind of thinking in American politics concerning the rich and the poor, and you know what was party the fundamentalist support. If you’re poor, your job was shipped to China or India, dammit its your fault!

    As a got older I came to see that whatever life trials came my way were not that different than what every human goes through, stuff happens to all of us. Sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes through no fault of our own. Shedding the concepts of a god testing us (if He truly knows us – why would he need to test us?) or a devil through trials our way – you are free to face life as it comes and deal with others in compassion and truth. When i feel short of my religions expectations God was still there. When I left all religion God was still there. I have lost friends, who now consider me apostate. But over time I’ve even come to accept that too without recrimination. Their time will come. I and I will greet them with open arms and no retribution.

    I’ve had a number of unusual experiences that defied any religious explanations, including a near death experience. That experience so shatters religious ideas as to make them seem silly by comparison. There is an ultimate reality – and it is very very concerned about us. So my issue was not so much whether I could believe God was real, I knew God was real. But what did come clear that the God much of the scriptures paint, is neither loving nor fair. Especially if one takes scripture as literally and as seriously as I once did.

    I do like the genuine sayings of Jesus as best as I can determine them. And its quite clear most of Christianity doesn’t practice them. I also enjoy the teachings of Buddha and other sages through time. I love the Sufi poetry of Rumi. Bahá’u’lláh has some great insights on peace and unity. I don’t know if I can call myself a Christian anymore even though I do try to live my life by the teachings of Jesus. I believe Jesus was a man, as I am. If he is the son of God then we all are in the same way he is. I do not believe God sent Jesus to die for the sins of humans, I believe Jesus was murdered because his teachings threaten power. I cannot believe God sent himself to die for us so the same God could forgive us. That’s not forgiveness, that expecting payment for a debt. There is no forgiveness in that kind of transaction. Or let me make the point clearer, if my neighbor borrowed my lawn mower, then trashed it on some rocks in his back yard, and gave it back to me broken, and I said to him “look, I’d like to forgive you but I have my rules, so what I am going to do is kill my child, so that I can forgive you!”. They’d lock me up for child endangerment! If God is anything, I think we can rest assured He is not a deranged sociopathic monster. God forgives because that’s just what God does. Its a scandalous kind of mentality that defies human thinking on what people deserve. Its not payback justice. Its transformative love and compassion.

    If Jesus was God then his own sayings of “greater works than these shall they do” would be false, for how can anyone do something greater than God? But scriptures are always picked and chosen to suit the sect, each denomination puts its own bread crumb trail through the Good Book to lead you to their conclusions and their interpretations. There are some gems of wisdom in the Bible. Same can be said of Shakespeare. If Jack in the Bean stalk were a book of the Bible, theologians would argue about what variety of bean it was.

    Some of my friends did become atheists, I have no problem that. I have noticed it seems to be a phase necessary for some to purge some really sick ideas about God. Atheists ask the questions nobody else have the balls to ask of religion. Others went into other faiths, many need the community they feel in a group of believers – and fortunately for them they were never a “true believer” as I once was – they can go most anywhere and remain healthy whole human beings. Others seem to need the restricting intellectual confines of a religion. Like a bird who has never been outside of a cage and is afraid to fly. Whatever the course of the path each takes I do think there is a some intelligence that guides people where they need to be for whatever they need to learn.

    I’ve heard of people finding God on psychedelics. I’ve heard of people finding God through sex. Some find God in religion. Some never do and seemed destined to live a life feeling they are all alone. Some find God hiking a mountain trail. It seems if you explore one thing or another long enough you discover some of the reality that underlies it all. Someone wrote recently “Our task is not search out God, but to push away that which obscures God. We all have things to push away, to throw out, to consider anew.

    Welcome to the waters of the unknown, the water looks deep but the swimming is fine.

  9. November 1, 2011 1:13 am

    To me, the key point which Jane is making here is this:

    I know I wouldn’t have understood or lived my Christianity perfectly, but if you are following the Creator of the universe with your whole heart, wholly open to his leading, you’d think he’d be at least powerful enough to give you a gentle shove in the right direction.

    I have agonized over this question of sincerity and intentions. Because I was so “wholeheartedly” dedicated to living authentically “in Christ” – to the point of saying like Job: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him – I know for certain that mine was not a spiritual relationship based on legalism or blindly following. My heart was in the right place. I loved God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

    And yet – I was wrong and my family was harmed as a direct result of the beliefs which I strongly and sincerely felt the Lord Himself revealed to me through His word, the bible.

    Jane has a very similar experience – and I think our main complaint is this: Why didn’t the Holy Spirit reveal to us the “more reasonable” approach to the bible and Christianity that Shadowspring and Kristen have discovered which allows them to wholeheartedly love the Lord without damage to themselves and their children?

    It can’t be that we were lacking in devotion, genuine faith, earnestness, bible study skills, ect. – so then, why? Why were we so very wrong?

    For Jane, and for myself, the most straightforward explanation is that the abuses are inherent to the bible and Christianity. We have reason to believe that we did not misinterpret the basic message of Christ and the Cross – but in actual fact, we understood quite clearly that “greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend” – Jesus was our example, our motivation and our very strength to sacrifice ourselves for others – almost to the same degree that He did. I didn’t actually die – but I willingly came close on several occasions – and just as Jesus went to the cross willingly “for the joy set before Him” – I did not shrink back from giving of myself for the benefit of others no matter the personal cost.

    • November 1, 2011 2:42 am

      Vyckie, that was also the key point for me. I discovered I’d been unwittingly following a cult leader my entire life when I was 25 years old. I did not instantaneously become an atheist; it took another 6 weeks during which time I scoured every apologetic resource I could get my hands on. I asked every layperson, priest, pastor and theology student I could find how I could have been led so badly astray. Why would God allow me to be born into a cult, and to only hear a perverted version of Him and His Word? Why, even now when I was desperately praying for discernment and guidance, could I not tell if what I heard was God or my own thoughts?

      If the Christian God is real, then he saw me suffering unspeakable pain and torture. He saw me running in front of cars, because I was already suicidal at age 6. And He did nothing to tell me, or my parents, or my grandmother, that the way we were following Him was “wrong.” So, if that god is real, I too want nothing to do with Him.

    • November 1, 2011 3:27 am

      I know, Vyckie. It feels like a betrayal when you thought part of the deal was that the Holy Spirit would lead you away from danger, and he didn’t– at least, not the way you thought he would, before what you believed harmed yourself and those you hold most dear. I have felt that way too. I didn’t get to where I am without a long stint in a dominionist shepherding group first, that damaged me and caused me to hurt my sister, my parents, and other close friends very much.

      I can’t answer for anyone but myself, of course– but for me, the way I look at it now is this. The reasons I got involved in that shepherding cult had a lot to do with certain things within myself (mostly coming from being a child of alcoholics) that made the cult’s ways seem normal and natural to me. I don’t think there was any way to avoid those things in my life– the only way out of my dysfunctional way of relating to life was not to go past, but through the consequences. I know there were warning signs which I could have paid more attention to– which doesn’t make it somehow my fault that I got involved in it– but it is one reason. Indeed, I have learned to stop looking at life in terms of fault and blame. Ultimately, “who’s to blame?” is a question that I think focuses too much on the type of thinking that got me entrenched in the first place; thinking that looks at life in terms of control rather than acceptance.

      I do believe that I am a stronger, saner person now than I would be if I had avoided that cult. BUT — and this is a big but– the cult itself had a big role in how hard it was, by using that “your heart is deceitful” ploy to get me to distrust the instincts that might have kept me from being dragged in so deep.

      Does this mean God deliberately led me into that cult? I don’t think so. I think God knew I was going to get involved, and that I was going to shrug aside the gut feelings that might have helped me escape. All I know is that when I did get out, it seemed to me that I felt God’s hand still in mine; that Jesus cared about my sufferings and had suffered them with me. I know you didn’t feel the same. But all I can really know is my own story.

      I do feel that none of our stories are over yet, and that in our own various journeys, we will all find ways to make sense of what we went through. I know that helping others who are suffering in QF and similar beliefs, is a very good way to bring some retrospective peace to painful memories. In that, I think, we are united.

  10. November 1, 2011 1:40 pm

    I can barely believe what I’m reading in the comments to this blog. Here is a woman – a mother – and obviously a friend to some of you who has bravely shared her family’s journey from pain to place of healing and just look how you respond!

    Let me just pick out some of the salient points of Jane’s post:

    “Our support networks vanish overnight …” “… victims of spiritual and psychological abuse” “… some very precious friendships were not able to survive my transition to a life beyond faith” … “my old Christian friends reject me”; “… my family was so damaged by our faith”; “… we experienced such destruction”

    And what has her current path brought her?

    “.. it’s a journey of joy and wonder”; “… walking into a world of intellectual truthfulness, embracing a new found agency, and growing towards a healthy and functional adulthood”
    Here is a woman who has bared her sole, exposed her pain and hurt, and how do those who purport to follow the teachings and example of a ‘perfected’ human respond? By a) bitching that she has offended them by suggesting that they’re faith isn’t as wholehearted as hers was and b) by insinuating that if only she’d got it ‘right’ the way they have, she wouldn’t have gotten herself and her family into this predicament!

    Never in my life have I heard responses so petty, self-serving, insensitive and downright UN-Christlike as those I’m reading here.

    I don’t know Jane well, but I know what she and her family have gone through. The only appropriate response to this woman is love, compassion, empathy and non-judgmental support. But is this what she is receiving from her Christian friends? No, she’s receiving rejection, judgment, petty comparisons and, “you think you’re having a hard time, wel what about ME ME ME?????”

    Really people! Do you go sit through sermons with cotton wool in your ears and a Who Magazine hidden in your Bible? Or do your churches preach such vile, judgmental drivel that you actual believe this kind of behaviour is worthy of the ‘Lord and Saviour’ you puport to emulate?

    Unwittingly, each one of you has proven Jane’s assertion that those who have not suffered as she did simply cherry-picked the Bible more. Each one of you provides us with your own ‘spin’ on how she might have understood it – and, not surprisingly, each one of them is different. But, of course, yours is ‘right’.

    Arthur helpfully tells us that ‘there is much truth in the Bible, but also some error’. The implication here is that clever Arthur (unlike Jane) has managed to work out which is which.
    Shadowspring responds to her friend’s words by calling her ‘arrogant and foolish’.

    For Shadowspring only the words and life of Christ are meant to be taken seriously. Here the implication is that somehow Shadowspring can determine what Christ actually said after decades of Chinese whispers passed down from different (and often warring) faction of Christian sects, translated and mistranslated and ‘rephrased’ according to the gospel writer’s own beliefs and historical context.

    Even theologians concede there is not one skerrick of reliable contemporary history written about Jesus. Even theologians agree that even accounts in the gospels contradict each other! And yet Shadowspring is somehow able to assess what is ‘genuine’. If Jane was ‘arrogant and foolish’ may I suggest that someone believing they can accurately determine the facts about Christ’s life and history at this distance is even more so.

    Kristen similarly self-absorbed, accusing her friend of being ‘smug’. Are you people for real? You look at this brave, bruised, battling woman who has just written about how she is finally finding a healthy and happy outlook for herself and her children and your response is to call her arrogant, foolish and smug???? And you call us atheists immoral and unethical?
    Each one of the theists in this thread – whether Christian or deist – has clearly moulded their belief system into a framework that preserves their sanity.

    What Jane said, (clearly I think), is that she was not prepared to accept a Christianity moulded to ‘suit’ her or to make her feel comfortable. Whether her interpretation was right or wrong, she honestly pursued the Christianity laid out in the Biblical texts. She has experienced a pain greater than most because where others dodged and weaved through sophistry and cherry-picking, when Jane met cognitive roadblocks, she stormed right through them in the belief that was “what God wanted”. Now she and her children bears the scars.

    It seems quite clear to me, but then I’m not looking at it through Christ-coloured glasses.
    If the response given here is what is considered right and fitting and Christ-like by those who claim to follow God incarnate, mark me down as someone who is very happy to be an immoral, unethical atheist who simply responds to someone who is hurting by giving them a hug and saying, “It’s your path, and I’ll support you in whatever you choose to do, as long as it gives you joy instead of pain.”

  11. November 1, 2011 4:07 pm

    Chrys, you apparently misunderstood what I was saying. I did NOT call Jane “smug.” Far from it; I called “smug” the person who said, “I’m glad God didn’t lead me down that path.” Which is the same thing Jane said about the person who said that. This is what Jane herself said in the opening post:

    “And speaking of goat bothering, I have known more than one Christian woman to comment, ‘I’m so grateful God didn’t lead me down the path you went down!’ At best these statements seem rather heartless, at worst they display an appallingly smug arrogance.”

    I was merely agreeing with Jane.

    But you may be right in this: in light of Jane’s pain, it was probably self-centered of me to focus on the implications of what her words were saying about the way I practice my own faith. For this, I apologize. But I’m really not sure what your condemnation of me and others does to help. I was, at least, being honest about where I disagreed with her, and why. I was certainly not judging her the way you have just judged us.

  12. November 1, 2011 4:19 pm

    Chrys seems to have said it all, as a fellow atheist I too am appalled by the pettiness and downright meanness of the comments left after this blog by ‘so-called’ Christians. Methinks you good Christian folk protest too much. You are perhaps offended by the fact that Jane is flourishing and finding solace among the non-religious.

    To my mind identifying as a member of a group can satisfy some deep seated emotional needs that we all as social beings have, such as a sense of belonging. Some religious groups however exploit and take advantage of this, in cruel and manipulative ways. The difference between those who have a liberal progressive take on a belief system, compared to those with a more fundamentalist view, is not so much that the fundamentalist view is ‘righter’ but it’s effects upon an individual’s life are more profound. Fundamentalists live their religion in a way, very different to liberal religionists. Their belief is comprehensive, touching on every part of their lives – on their friendships and family. They interact with the world through a haze of religious doctrine which dictates the way they interpret information and even behave. Jane states that she has encountered people (religious and non-religious) who fail to understand her journey from fundamentalist to freethinker. I applaud Jane for writing so candidly about her experiences.

    Jane has told her story, the story of someone who approached Christianity with deeply held convictions and personal integrity. Having been brought up Christian, I believe there are elements of the faith that people can find comforting and others that are downright harmful. Those who cherry pick the Bible and interpret it to suit themselves are probably aware of this even though they’d never admit it. For example the doctrine of hell is problematic. Eternal damnation is a threat pure and simple, it makes no difference how lovingly and gently it is applied, the message is to believe or be damned for all eternity. No wonder many Christians make the choice to cherry pick the good book, to rationalise the irrational and ignore all the bits that contradict the other bits. It is the only way that reasonably sound people can profess to believe in such clearly invented bladerdash.

    Of course many of you dislike what Jane has said, perhaps because her heartfelt story has stirred up feelings of doubt and insecurity within you. I’ve found that Christians seem to care very much what atheists make of their faith. Perhaps you know that stories of talking snakes, virgin births, angels, demons and dead people coming back to life are a little bit silly. Perhaps you are a little uncomfortable with a God who is so vengeful, petty and egotistical that he would condemn perfectly moral people to eternal damnation for not believing in him. I’m with Jane on this one, if there is a God and I very much doubt there is, and if he is the God of the Bible, then I want nothing to do with him.

  13. November 1, 2011 4:57 pm

    It’s very interesting that if we “dislike” what Jane said, we are showing “pettiness and downright meanness.” Anything said to us, though, is just the simple truth that we’d better listen to and be quiet. You can tell us our faith is “silly,” you can question our motives, you can analyze our psyches for insecurity and discomfort with our own beliefs– and you can re-iterate that we’re just cherry-pickers who interpret our faith to suit ourselves, rather than bravely facing its nastiness. You can speak of our “sophistry” and conjecture that we might be offended that Jane is flourishing and finding solace among the non-religious. But none of that is mean at all. You’re just telling the truth.
    I assure you that I rejoice that Jane is flourishing and finding solace, wherever she is finding it. I would ask Chrys to please check over what I have said and try to find any place where I said atheists were immoral or unethical. You won’t find it. Neither will anyone find that I insinuated anything about me being “right” and that if only Jane had done it my way, she’d be happy. In fact, I expressed that I understood how frustrating it would be to have someone say that. I am not the one who called someone else’s beliefs “irrational” and “balderdash.” And yet I and the other Christians who posted here are the ones being mean.

    Having said that– and having conveyed my apologies to Jane for any self-centeredness (which I, like anyone else, am quite capable of) and for any place where I may have seemed less than sympathetic to what she went through (we have interacted elsewhere on the Internet, and I think she probably took it as read that I do symphathize very much), I will take my leave here. The conversation here is rapidly descending into name-calling and personal attacks– which I have done my best to avoid, and will continue to strive to do so.

  14. cushla geary permalink
    November 1, 2011 6:31 pm

    Ah Me….Good Christians all – so keen to tell the world of their own beliefs, and their own interpretations of their holy book, and their own struggles with their very own self-made faiths. Such honeyed words, overlying the smug self-satisfaction, so quick to take offense, and to see criticism of yourselves in the words of someone else, such patronising self-justification – if you were Catholics, you’d all be doing penance for the next six weeks for such an exhibition of pride and uncharity!

    But Chrys and Maria have said it all much better than I would have done: they’re polite ladies, both – me being quite openly scornful of such mealy-mouthed bitchiness as is displayed in the comments to which they addressed their posts, I’d perhaps have been rather too blunt.

    Thank you again, Jane, for your article, and for the shining example of courage and honesty you have offered us. May you grow in strength.


  15. November 2, 2011 1:13 am

    Ack – this “conversation” has rapidly become truly disheartening – I’m pretty sure this is not the direction which Jane anticipated or feels is constructive.

    Maybe it’s unrealistic to imagine that devoted Christians and equally “devoted” atheists could engage in dialogue which could lead to greater understanding and sympathetic solidarity as fellow humans on a mostly mysterious journey in which, as Brian McLaren put it, “We are all people in a predicament” in need of understanding and support rather than judgment and condemnation – but the idealist in me always wants to try.

    It is never helpful – and is actually detrimental to our own humanity and that of our “earthmates” (LOL – I just made that up!) – to attempt to make nuanced distinctions between us and all those “others” who don’t quite understand, or are actually clueless, or just plain and simple are not getting it right.

    It is not constructive or charitable to focus on how our way is actually right or better or more reasonable, etc. All such talk only leads to further alienation – not to mention a superiority and judgementalism (made that up too) which stifles honest discussion of big ideas rather than encouraging it.

    It’s not a zero sum game in which in order for one person to be “right” – having discovered a healthy and fulfilling way of understanding our lives and our place in this world (and possibly the next – or not – depending on where we’re coming from) – someone else must be “wrong” since they do not see things quite the way we do.

    Of course there is such a thing as objective reality – there either is a God or there is not – there either is an afterlife or there is not – but we ourselves are subjective creatures who are by our finite nature limited to an unavoidably subjective understanding and experience of that reality – we have no choice but to pick and choose, to interpret, to discern.

    The point is: our various distinctives and disagreements do not make us enemies. And in those rare moments in which are are able to clear away all the abstract words and ideals by which we are attempting to navigate this journey called “life” – in some important and basic ways, we are actually very much alike.

  16. November 3, 2011 9:22 pm

    With everything that seems to be developing throughout this subject material, all your points of view happen to be rather stimulating. Nonetheless, I appologize, but I do not subscribe to your whole theory, all be it stimulating none the less. It would seem to me that your comments are not completely justified and in reality you are yourself not really fully certain of the point. In any case I did enjoy looking at it.

  17. November 11, 2011 12:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Jane. It really resonated with me….albeit it took me 2 weeks to get over here and read this.:)

  18. November 16, 2011 10:03 pm

    I found the info on this post valuable.


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