Lately I’ve been getting more requests here and elsewhere to reconsider Christianity, despite acknowledgements that some of the teachings in that religion are harmful. It’s like being told, “Hey, it sucks that this happened, but please try it again and expect it to be different.” This can be maddening, frustrating, and disappointing at times. I’m still looking for the right chain of words to string together to convince still-practicing Christians that me returning to the faith isn’t a good thing (or even desirable).
If your religion is based at least in part on The Bible, then it’s similar enough to what I went through.
I don’t usually like making blanket statements like this, but I’m slowly figuring out that any faith that nominally derives its authority or teaching from The Bible (any version) really is conceptually similar to what I grew up with. Yes, there are some major differences between what I grew up with (Lutheran) and what other Christians believe, but these differences only matter when nitpicking specific beliefs. To any non-Christian, Christianity still has some overarching themes. Only the most liberal and tolerant congregations deviate from this norm, and they’re super-rare here in the States.
Unfortunately, the distinctions within the mainline and fundagelical branches of American Christianity exist without significant difference. They might sound nicer in different churches, but it’s usually sugarcoating the same message. People sin, they deserve punishment for that sin, and bad things will happen to people who don’t agree. From this root, religious guilt, shame, and other negative processes can flourish – especially in minds that are prone to adopt them. While I’ve written about this a bunch of times before, I’m repeating it again to illustrate that this criticism of Christianity exists, and I will not let it be ignored again.
I say again, because the other damaging thing that happens in Christianity is learning how to pretend that all of this is a good thing.
Growing up, all the negative things I felt were explained away as being a natural part of the faith. It was normal for me to hate myself, to criticize myself, and to deny that I’ve done anything worthwhile. I could only grudgingly acknowledge praise from others, and never in a manner which might indicate I felt happy as a result of receiving it. To do so would be to solicit praise, and that’s reserved for a deity.
This kind of thing happens on blogs, in testimonials, and in churches all over the country. I’ve read statements of people who rejoice in being humbled by life. It’s not like I’m the only person who ever did it as a Christian, and I know I’m not the last. This is a feature of the faith, and it still affects me even when I’m out of it. I can attribute several recent depressive episodes to it, as part of my mind refusing to accept any positive feedback on anything I do.
So, it’s equal parts pretending unhealthy thinking is normal, and making sure nobody knows about having healthy self-worth. And before anyone objects, I recognize that not all Christians do this. I even know a few of those, who rely on it in others so they can get their way all the time.
Asking me to reconsider this is a bad idea.
I am not kidding or being facetious when I say it can kill me. It’s bad enough that I can rationalize ending my life without even realizing I’m in a suicidal state. This is the product of years of conditioning to respond favorably to that self-hatred. Going back means I will start excusing these states as being the products of whatever spiritual thing comes to mind.
Above all else, I recognize that some people do use their religious beliefs to feel good about themselves. Just because these people can do it does not mean that I can do it. I tried for three decades (two of which I can definitely point to having depressive episodes). I was exposed to belief tenets from most of the American Christian religious spectrum, rejecting the most liberal because of the core values I’d been taught. The existence of people who can have a good time is not relevant to my experience.
I feel bad for people who are pained by my lack of faith.
Take the religious beliefs out of the mix, and there’s no reason for anyone to even care about what I believe regarding supernatural deities. It’s only when people get taught that life without Jesus is scary that this becomes an issue. This makes it the only cause as to why people might feel awful at my change of beliefs.
In a way, this is another negative reminder of what I left behind. I get to see complete strangers affected in miserable ways for no other reason than they’ve been convinced that I’m going to get divinely tormented. The worst thing about it is that while sometimes it might be genuine, I’ve been around enough manipulative people of Christian faith that it also might just be a passive-aggressive attempt at control. Neither of these alternatives speak to a divine entity rescuing lost souls.
So please, pretty please, stop asking me to reconsider your belief system.
Unless I’ve gone to someone and asked them to change their beliefs, there’s no reason to do this here. Going back to my old beliefs is not a welcoming idea for me. In fact, it’s dangerous in my case.