Making Peace With My Former Religion: Deconstructing My Christian Faith
Why I’m Leaving
As an ex-evangelical Christian, I’m one among the growing numbers of Americans leaving the church. The reasons aren’t surprising. Christian theologian Carol Howard Merritt acknowledges that people in my position have experienced “sexism, homophobia, racism, greed, and violence dressed up as piety.” Witnessing the indifference towards the wellbeing of “people who aren’t like us” was definitely something that damaged my perception of my fellow Christians, but the endless stories about the mishandling of abuse set off the final alarms. If God existed as I was taught, why did the church seem to be damaging peoples’ ability to treat victims with compassion? A group that defaulted to callousness when faced with the reality of others’ suffering didn’t seem ethical. And why would I worship a God that didn’t want ethical followers?
Finally able to recognize my background as a kind of Christian fundamentalism, I thought that finding a more progressive form of my religion would allow me to feel comfortable again, but I started to identify the same system of information control that had been instituted to prevent asking questions about trickier topics, and it occurred to me that a belief system that was hostile to inquiry was not sustainable. The final nail in the coffin was recognizing the damaging effects of supernatural beliefs: It often seemed as if it moved us away from understanding reality as it was and doing what we could to improve it into purely denying reality. I had a gnawing feeling that the positive feelings I had about my religion didn’t make it true and that bothered me.
Learning about how religious and spiritual beliefs can be used to control people has been valuable for being able to understand my experience. I started watching videos by Chris Shelton, an ex-Scientologist who makes great videos about how to recognize controlling belief systems. He has also made videos with now music therapist Kristiana Miner, about her experience in Baptist fundamentalism. Reading Faith Unraveled and Searching for Sundays by Rachel Held Evans helped reassure me that other people have stumbled into the same moral and logical quandaries. I’ve also been listening to podcasts like Good Christian Fun and The Life After, which have helped me reflect on some of the ideas that I absorbed growing up in Christian culture.
There’s spades of podcasts specifically about deconverting from Christianity (Exvangelical, Life After God, Voices of Deconversion, Women Beyond Faith, Deconversion Therapy). If you’re interested in finding community with other people who have similar experiences, several of these podcasts even have associated Facebook communities.
Feeling New Freedom
Having been denied the ability to make choices and even denied the knowledge of these choices in the first place, something that many ex-religious struggle with is a diminished sense of self. Some people find trying new ways of dating or pursuing new kinds of knowledge to be ways of finding a sense of who they are. Just watching movies with an open mind has been game-changing for me. No longer fearing that certain ideas might break my faith and having the intellectual freedom to reach my own conclusions has helped me think about how I relate to the world and what it means to me personally to lead a good life.
Healing and Spirituality
I was always suspicious of people who said they were “spiritual but not religious,” even as an evangelical whose beliefs swung more towards the idea that “there are many paths to God.” The thing is, religion was how I accessed my spirituality and I valued the structure it provided. For a while after leaving my religion, I thought that my desire for spirituality was some kind of residue from years of indoctrination and thought that with time my yearning for anything spiritual would fade. I don’t know whether such a thing as a natural inclination towards spirituality exists for some people, but I believe that spirituality can be a way of reflecting on our lives and building systems for ourselves to pursue peace, purpose, perspective, and transcendent experiences. Becoming aware of the concept of spirituality without supernatural components, “secular spirituality,” has allowed me to take up crafting a system that works for me.
A need for healing underlies my current pursuit of spirituality. Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt, Desperately Seeking Spirituality by Meredith Gould, Sacred Wounds by Teresa B. Pasquale have been great starts to reframing my experience with spirituality, but there’s countless other resources for people dealing with religious trauma. There are avenues for people of color healing from racism experienced in religious spaces. There are many women who write about dealing with the remnants of purity culture and the expectation of female submission. Whether you went to a huge mega-church or a small house church led by a family friend, whether you grew up a non-denom Christian like me, or in another faith entirely, there are people with similar experiences and you can find support for healing from it.
I’ve assembled a list of additional resources below created for and by people from various religious backgrounds:
Faith to Faithless (YouTube)
Leaving the Fold (workbook) by Marlene Winell
Women Beyond Belief (book) by Karen Garst
Women Beyond Belief (podcast) hosted by Wendy Marsman