I’ve considered myself a non-Christian for just over four years now. During that time, I’ve written (and deleted) a bunch of posts on figuring out where I end and religious beliefs begin. For a long while, I believed in so many supernatural things that some of them just found a place and have been hiding there ever since. They’re no longer obviously religious thoughts, but they come from religious seeds.
Case in point: attaching identity to ideas.
I learned in church that things outside their teachings were bad things. They were of the world. It was a shorthand for saying that they were bad, and the people who held those ideas were bad people. Eventually the idea spread to the point that anyone who contradicted teachings was an agent of evil incarnate. If they didn’t fight as much when you tried to give them the GOOD NEWS™, at best they were just misguided souls who hopefully would come around.
This also worked introspectively. Every non-Christian thought and deed became a cause for dire concern. What if I didn’t mean it when I asked Jesus into my heart? What if I’m actually a terrible person who’s capable of lying to himself? What if there’s no salvation for someone like me who doesn’t conform to what the church says should happen when I give myself to Christ?
Nowadays, the idea just loses the religious trappings. People who don’t share the same thoughts on macroeconomics are bad people. Rivals are individuals who must be stopped. All of this because they don’t conform to ideological standards.
These ideas don’t do me any favors. I want to find them because of that.
Leaving religion – Christianity for me – isn’t just a single decision I made a while back. A lot of the teachings I picked up are unhealthy, and they still hurt. The process of healing gets stunted by every person who insists that I should come back for more abuse. Sometimes it’s all I can do to just ignore the demands of my former faith.
I think part of the problem is that living a secular life is a process and not a destination. Think of all the magical promises that were made when people joined a church or converted. They were bathed in the blood of the lamb. Born again. Made new. Everything changed all at once. Some people even started speaking gibberish and thrashing about on Sundays.*
There’s an unspoken expectation that the way out should mirror the way in. If magical thinking got me here, why can’t magical thinking get me back to reality? Of course that doesn’t work. It took years of being around the hyper-religious to get where I am, and so it’s going to take years of work to shore up my defenses.
Eventually I want to get into how those defenses get eroded.
Right now I just want to mention that people still in the faith have an interest in seeing deconverts stumble. This isn’t to mean that all Christians are lurking in shadows, waiting for that next notch on their spiritual bedposts. Rather, it means that the ideas behind the faith encourage Christians to break people down.
Incidentally, this is where I put most of my energy in damage assessment. I’m trying to find the ideas that want to keep me at the mercy of an imaginary deity at the expense of my well-being. Those are the most important, I think, because rejecting them inherently makes me a stronger person. Remembering that breaking myself down was part of the system is a crucial step to no longer being affected by it.
*I was too dignified to do that as a Lutheran. Instead, I just believed that communion wafers and wine turned into human flesh and blood after I consumed them. Every subset of Christianity has an absurd belief when one digs deep enough.