Tracie Harris Shares Her Experience Growing Up Christian

This video resonated quite strongly with me. I did not grow up in a charismatic Christian environment (the groups my parents belonged to were mostly cessationist), but everything else holds true for my experience. One thing I’ve turned over and over in my mind since deconversion is how the same set of activities can look so very different depending upon whether one is inside or outside of the “faith bubble.” Belief is powerful, and that’s why I don’t like comments which are dismissive about how people form beliefs or hold onto beliefs (saying things like “Christians are all crazy” or “Christianity requires brainwashing”). Those comments miss the mark because for many people they felt as though they were willing participants at the time and they may still have many fond memories of their childhood. I can look back on the time spent in my parents’ home, singing contemporary Christian music for their “Teen Time” Bible study (they used to invite my older sisters’ non-Christian friends over for snacks, Bible-study and worship) and becoming emotionally wrapped up in the music and the mood. Christianity in that sense was good to me, but it also had the darker side of encouraging fear, doubting my own intellectual capabilities, and seeking to keep a safe distance from those who were lost and doomed for hell without Jesus. The carrot and the stick. The poison and the cure. To me, the amazing thing is not how effective childhood indoctrination can be, but the fact that despite its effectiveness, so many people are still able to break free and critically examine the religion they were raised with.


Related Posts:

What I hear when you say “Jesus Loves You.”

Curse Your Branches?

Vyckie Garrison on Christian Fundamentalism

When the very definition of perfect love is sacrificing your children and martyring yourself, there is no place for emotionally healthy concepts like boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality. I could not say that my husband’s patriarchal behavior was abusive so long as I was committed to a relationship with “The Big Guy” who exemplifies the abusive bully, and who commands his followers to imitate His very warped and twisted idea of “love.”

Click here to read the full article.

satan from paradise lost

Misotheism & Atheism

There is a term which I think should be more widely used and understood. That term is misotheism which means “hatred of the gods” (or God).

An example of a character who is a misotheist would be the “atheist” professor in the recent film God’s Not Dead (played by Kevin Sorbo). Sorbo’s character doesn’t have many good arguments against belief in the Christian God, mostly appeals to authority. The story does reveal that he has a deep antipathy towards God because he blames him for the death of his mother when he was a child. At the end of the film viewers see Sorbo’s character renounce his atheism and embrace Christianity moments before dying. This sort of abrupt conversion would obviously be problematic for an atheist who was truly convinced in their skepticism, but is definitely less of a problem for a character whose “atheism” is depicted as a smokescreen for his emotional problems with a god he clearly does believe in. A classic example of a misotheistic character would be Satan from Paradise Lost. That character is unable to have any doubts about God’s existence yet he still hates God and actively works to overthrow his plans.

A misotheist is a person who truly hates God. For them, there is no question about the existence of a divine being (speaking here of monotheistic misotheists, not pagans) but rather the question is how they relate to this divine being. Instead of responding with love, adoration, and worship they respond with indignation, anger and outright hatred towards that being and everything which it (in their mind) represents.

Atheists are NOT misotheists

Something I’ve noticed is that in debates and discussions between Christians and atheists, the Christian will often (not always) assume that their opponent really does believe in god but is choosing to “suppress” or deny that they do. In other words, many sincere Christian believers think that most atheists are actually misotheists and not true atheists. This can be quite frustrating for the atheists that they talk to. How can you convince someone you are telling the truth concerning a basic fact about yourself? Can you imagine an atheist saying “I don’t think you really believe in your God, you just pretend to so that you can feel better!” Obviously, most Christians would feel quite insulted if they were told that their sincerely held beliefs were really just a game of make-believe. An atheist is going to have a similar response when their genuine state of doubt and skepticism gets reinterpreted as merely an emotional state of mind, a sort of psychological bubble-wrap over their true, god-hating, beliefs.

What makes this common misunderstanding of atheists even more problematic is that for many ex-Christian atheists, they spent a period of time (whether weeks, months or years) trying to earnestly believe, trying to “get back” to the place they once were in their faith. When this simply becomes impossible for them it is frustrating to hear that they just need to “let go” of their doubts and negative feelings about God and suddenly their former faith will make sense. I’ve really latched onto the image of a broken bridge to explain how those of us who sometimes want to come back to Christianity feel (click here to read more about that).

Misotheism vs …?

So, while misotheism may not be useful in explaining how most atheists relate to god, is there some kernel of truth to the idea that ‘atheists hate God and religion’? It is quite possible for atheists to have strong negative feelings about their former religion or even about a religion which they never participated in. Sometimes those passions get translated into words which explicitly condemn the god of that religion. Thus, a former Jehovah’s Witness may say that they despise the character of Jehovah who they also now disbelieve in. They despise the control which that former belief system had over their life and their decisions. They despise what they now see as an abusive, manipulative belief system (not all former JW’s have such strong negative feelings, but that’s an easy example and it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the very real harm caused by their beliefs about blood transfusions).

An ex-Muslim likewise might come across to Muslims as “hating Allah”, because they are willing to speak out against what they see as cruel and primitive within Islam. When “Allah” is described in the Quran or the Hadiths as the one commanding cruel and misogynistic things, then it makes sense for people to condemn that “Allah” (ie, that human idea of Allah/God) as cruel and misogynistic.

Simply having strong negative feelings does not mean that the person criticizing their former beliefs actually feels as though they are in a relationship (even a combative one) with their former deity. What it means is that they are wrestling with their past. It means that they are calling out ideas and behaviors which they have now rejected. To deny that there is any emotional component here seems foolish. We are all emotional beings and we make decisions about what to criticize and what to ignore all of the time. An ex-Muslim obviously knows much more about and has a much more intimate knowledge of Islam, so it makes sense for them to blog about and speak against that religion. An ex-Christian, likewise, knows about the Bible and the Christian god. This doesn’t mean that an ex-Christian can never criticize Scientology or Buddhism, but it does help to explain why so many atheists in America choose to focus their limited time and attention on debunking the Christian god and the Bible (the fact that most Americans still believe in that god also helps to explain the criticism, since Bible-believing Christians currently wield much more political and social power than Buddhists or Muslims in America).

What I hear when you say “Jesus loves you.”

(Trigger warning: religion and childhood, corporal punishment)

I know what I’m supposed to hear when a Christian smiles at me (or sends a text, or an email or a smoke-signal) and says “Jesus loves you!” I’m supposed to hear “I care about you so much that I want to tell you that my special friend Jesus thinks you are amazing!” Or I could even take it as “I want the best for you and care about you.” But for someone who has been on the inside of conservative, evangelical Christianity, for someone who knows “the rest of the story” and no longer believes it, those words have a darker meaning which clouds the cheery demeanor and good intentions of the people who speak them. The words below are a reflection on what comes into my mind when I read or hear “Jesus loves you.” They are an attempt to put my feelings into simple images, and as such they do not reflect the full truth about what I now think and believe, but they do represent an important part of how I feel.

 

When you say ‘Jesus loves you’

I hear “If you love him back.”

I hear “If you believe the right things about him.”

 

When you say ‘Jesus loves you unconditionally’

What I think is ‘do you really mean it?’

I ponder the meaning of the word ‘condition.’

In my mind I picture a contract set before me…

“Sign here.” A voice says.

“But I can’t read the words, they’re too small and squiggly.”

“Sign here.”

“What if I choose not to?”

“Sign here, or you forfeit your right to eternal happiness,

and gain the just punishment of eternal pain.”

“Who are you?” I ask.

But now the voice is silent, and it’s just me again,

alone in my head.

And instead of a contract,

I see just a blank sheet

of paper.

 

When you say ‘Jesus loves you’

I am reminded of my Sunday school lessons,

I am reminded of Bible Quizzing and Camp Clearwater,

and lock-ins,

and street evangelism,

and staying home on Halloween,

and late nights poring over my King James Bible.

I remember the whole story, not just that small part.

I hear myself being called a sinner, a blasphemer,

the most worthless, awful worm ever to exist.

I hear in my head the notes of God’s hatred.

He is a stern Father. Even more stern than my father

when he takes out his belt or raises his voice.

God is angry at me again.

I can feel his eyes on me,

dark and red,

as he looks down from Heaven.

I’ve begged for forgiveness so many times.

I’ve begged and crawled on my knees.

“Lord, save me. Forgive me for my sins. I’m not worthy.”

The belt stings, and so do the words I hear from my father.

But they are nothing compared to what Heavenly Father can do.

The grown-ups speak in hushed whispers about Hell.

But sometimes they raise their voices too

and yell out the dreaded curse:

Eternal Damnation!

Sometimes I can even feel myself leaning over it,

A great gaping pit in the Earth,

a wound.

I know that I deserve it.

But I must not feel bad enough yet.

Because I keep sinning.

Sin clings to me like a dark tar,

and despite all of my prayers and tears

it does not wash off.

I grow older, but the sin still remains,

slick and vile.

I learn more about Heavenly Father

and I come to terms with my guilt.

“Guilt is a sign of the Spirit at work in my heart” I say.

Guilt becomes my friend, my companion.

“The World doesn’t have guilt,” I laugh,

“they only have corruption.

God allows their sin to take over, to ruin their lives.”

But I know better. I’ve found the way out.

I’ve found the way to keep Heavenly Father from being too angry.

I’ve found the way to keep Him from throwing me into the Pit.

This gives me pride.

“No,” I scream at myself,

“Pride is wicked! Repent!”

Heavenly Father is angry again, but I feel comforted,

because I know the secret.

As long as I can feel bad enough,

it means that Heavenly Father knows I am truly sorry,

and that he has forgiven me.

 

I tell others that they too must know the love of Jesus.

“Come to the Father! Jesus has made a way!” I tell them.

“He is good and He will keep you from the worst of sin.”

“He will protect you from the Punishment.”

 

Inwardly I despair. I know that only a few can ever hear me.

Most are doomed.

Heavenly Father has told me

that only those He chooses will know the secret.

And then I feel happy again,

special,

because I know the secret.

I am a bad boy, but the secret makes me a good boy.

Most of the other children are still bad children.

They don’t know it, but they are naughty,

and they

must

be

punished.