A Realization About Spirituality

A thought struck me earlier today and I haven’t been able to shake it, so I will write about it. 
My spirituality has never been allowed to be about me.
The strict Baptist upbringing of my first two decades did not allow for anything that even hinted at selfishness. We weren’t Puritans by any stretch of the imagination, but we were taught that our lives weren’t about us because they belonged to God. We were born because God had a purpose for us. This purpose might include many things (pain, ridicule, sacrifices as huge as dying), but it ultimately culminated in bringing glory to himself. All that we said or did was supposed to please him and bring glory to his name and cause. How we worshipped, what we wore, and even the secret things we pondered late at night belonged to him. To do things because you wanted to was selfish and sinful. Rebellion was “as the sin of witchcraft,” (1 Samuel 15:23) after all. Most of the Christians I have known toss around the phrase, “it’s God’s will” or “the Holy Spirit is leading me to do this” or something similar to that to justify the decisions they make. I’ve seen those phrases used to justify some pretty terrible things, but that’s a topic for another time. 
Fundamentalism removes the individual’s self. An individual (in the sense I’m speaking about) is comfortable in their own skin and is quite happy to find his/her own way in life. An individual is empowered and free. Individuals don’t last in fundamentalism (unless they become cult leaders or the like). Fundamentalism must break down people’s sense of self, tell them it’s evil (play on past guilt, etc.), and then insert a controlling measure (strict adherence to particular teachings, lifestyle, dress, etc.). The Bible often uses the imagery of sheep needing a shepherd to illustrate humanities’ need for the Christian God. Sheep are very stupid animals, or so I’ve been told, and will get themselves into all kinds of trouble without the guidance of a shepherd. People often act like sheep; sometimes we like being told what to do rather than having to make our own decisions and then being responsible for them (and sometimes it’s necessary, to a degree). Individuals don’t fit well in flocks of sheep, though.
I’m an individual. I’ve always struggled with fitting in with the flock or going off on my own. I have many vivid memories associated with this struggle. In childhood I tried to blindly implement the rules I was taught, but kept finding them to be silly and impractical. I fought violently against the herd as I grew older, but kept being pulled back and shepherded into conformity. I earnestly believed but struggled with who I was as an individual. I worked at packing away my individuality, thinking it to be sinful, and tried to be a good little sheep. Keeping one’s self under control was prized, so I worked and worked at that. All this packing away and control did great damage to me on so many levels, though. 
  •  My ability to love and accept my body was trashed. Fleshly bodies are evil, after all, and only of this sinful world. To this day I still have a hard time separating what I look like (my weight, what I’m wearing, how sexy or frumpy I am) from who I actually am and what my worth as a human being is. I should be confident enough about my worth to not care how I appear in other people’s eyes, but I’m not. What other people think about me (must constantly worry about my testimony!) still runs me ragged at times.
  • My growth into a mature, emotionally-healthy human being was stunted. Keeping control of yourself, never letting loose was supposed to be a good thing. Instead, emotions and experiences I should have worked through as a young person (when the repercussions would have been smaller) have caused extreme pain and heartbreak now. I didn’t allow myself to be “crazy” as a young person. I thought I was really “out there” the first time I wore my Converse high tops in public, when I started listening to Josh Groban, and if I wore anything that was sleeveless. I didn’t allow myself to go through any of the phases most Americans deem normal because I wanted to be mature and Christ-like. I didn’t allow myself to process emotional pain or trauma correctly, because to do so would have involved expressing pain and needs to others, which was selfish and showed my relationship with God wasn’t strong enough.
  •  My understanding of what spirituality meant was monopolized, causing my spirituality to be shallow.    
    • My former spirituality was starving me. It was about making an invisible being happy by doing and saying the right thing. Everything was about him. I didn’t matter, and I told myself that was good and should make me happy. That sort of relationship between humans isn’t healthy and doesn’t work in the long run (I know from personal experience), but it’s exactly what many Christians teach and promote. Complete denial of self is a form of starvation, like anorexia. A strong, healthy personality doesn’t stem from an anorexic sense of self. I starved my self for many years and my personality and life suffered the side effects. Now, I’m trying to feed it and make it healthy, but it’s insanely hard. It’s easier to nibble on guilt and feelings of worthlessness than to stomach empowerment and self-worth.
    • My understanding of spirituality was so deeply tied to exclusively Christian things that I couldn’t separate spirituality from my religious beliefs. The spirituality of others was confusing to me, because they too claimed happiness and satisfaction, even if they didn’t associate with a particular religion. I was taught to discount the happiness of others and to call it blind ignorance instead. Because of that, I learned to judge others and discount the truth of what they said about themselves if it didn’t line up with what was “right.” I’ve come a long way here, but I still struggle with being judgmental and dismissive about other people’s thoughts and lives.
    • My spirituality was so bound up in Christianity, with its rules and scrutiny, that I wouldn’t let myself seriously consider other belief systems until very recently. Having the belief that everything outside of the KJV Bible is evil and a lie pounded into your head 6 days a week is incredibly effective. My Baptist upbringing also taught me that religions and spirituality were an all-or-nothing deal – everything was to be taken seriously and literally. Now, my spirituality allows me to explore, question, and piece together my own set of beliefs from whatever sources I chose. I don’t need rules or parameters.
Now that I’m free to be me, the possibilities are endless! My body is mine. My sexuality is mine. My intelligence is mine. My thoughts are mine. My life is mine. My spirituality is mine. My own! Where should I go with myself? The realization that I am my own person is deliciously freeing.

Ex-Fundies, Identity, & Finding Balance

I keep up with several ex-fundie blogs, many of which can be found on my blogroll. Most of these blogs are written by women who have left their backgrounds in Christian fundamentalism and embraced new ways of living. Many have left religion altogether; others have moved to more mainstream realms of Christianity where they focus on love instead of rules. I enjoy reading each person’s story and seeing how their lives have changed (for the better) since making the fateful decision to leave fundamentalism. Some of them have moved on more easily than others, and it shows in their writing.

It isn’t hard to spot who is still flaming mad. Vendettas and bitterness show through as they address their past (this isn’t surprising, since many of their pasts are quite horrible). The term ex-fundie is an integral part of their identity. Their writing is predominantly angry and/or negative, and they tend to lump the people who disagree with them into one bad lump. Sadly, I think their anger blinds them to many things and leads them to say and do things that are more harmful than helpful. If you’ve kept up with my blog in the past, you may feel I just described myself. It’s a fair point to make, and I won’t deny that I went through the flaming-mad phase for quite awhile (as addressed here).

In contrast, some of the authors make it clear that they have cooled off.
They still get mad and still have negative things to say, but they’ve found balance in their writing. Well, more accurately, they’ve found balance in their lives and it shines out in what they write. They address the past without dwelling on it.  The term ex-fundie helps them show where they’ve been on the map of life but their identity as a person is not built around it. They offer hope in addition to the horror their stories may contain. They don’t go about slinging mud and tearing down the people who have hurt them. They are thoughtful, kind, and wise. I sincerely hope to become more like these writers. It is their writing that is truly inspiring to me.

The first time I realized that there were more ex-fundies out in the blogosphere, I began reading as many of their blogs as I could. I devoured their stories, their thoughts, their new world views, and was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone. My personal story with fundamentalism was not horrific like many of their’s were (with many forms of abuse and sub-human living), but knowing other people had also been burned and also saw the problems with fundamentalism helped me move forward in my own life. I enjoy seeing others address things that once were a big part of my life – things that I was concerned about as a fundie. But, over time I have tired of the profuse amounts of spouting common to the more flaming-mad blogs. I grew tired of it when I was writing it on my own blog, haha! Perpetually dwelling in the negative is unhealthy and unhelpful in the long run. It also shows a lack of maturity and wisdom, in my opinion.

I’ve tried to keep this blog from being a predominantly negative place, starting with Rachel Held Evans “Ask A” series. Wow! She’s posted a lot of new material since the last time I shared it on the blog! I will do my best to post more positive things in the future, if for no other reason than to present a more balanced approach to viewing fundamentalism and religion. I have big plans for conducting some interviews of my own in the near future. Looking forward to that experience and being able to share it with you.

Looking Back & Moving Forward

If you read the earliest posts on this blog, you’ll quickly realize there was a time when I practically hated all things religious and many things spiritual. I was angry and bitter after spending the first 20 or so years of my life in fundamental Christianity. The day the blindfold came off, I began realizing the many things I had learned, seen, been part of, and had done to me that were wrong. The lies, the imposed guilt, the many options I should have had but didn’t because of my upbringing. The many evils done in the name of my former religion that had been swept under the rug by fellow Christians. So very many things crossed my mind and fueled my anger.

As I look back, I realize my anger was one of the five steps of loss and grief. The five stages are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (I pulled my list and quote from this site). They don’t necessarily occur in a specific order and you can move through them several times. I’m going to list the stages in the order that I experienced them.

Before I officially renounced my faith, I went through the first stage of denial and isolation.
”Block out the words and hide from the facts” is used to describe this stage. I think I was going through that first step long before I realized I was coming to the end of the road with fundamental Christianity. I was in a state of denial for a large portion of my thinking years, it just took me awhile to realize it and then figure out what to do with it. Indoctrination does that, though.

The fourth stage is depression. I experienced this stage as I questioned my beliefs, as I experienced the confusion of denial, as I worked through the anger, and later as I worried about what I could have done differently. In short, I experienced it simultaneously or directly after all but one stage of loss and grief.

Once I left, anger hit and burnt passionately for several months. Anger is the second stage and is the stage that took me the longest to work through. I still get riled up from time to time, but seem to have moved away from it as a stage.

I experienced the third stage (bargaining) several times, but usually went through it quickly. I can recall many horrible, stupid things I did because I thought I was supposed to… all because the Bible or a spiritual leader said so. Had I not had the fundamentalist indoctrination, I believe I would have acted differently, because I’m really not a bad person. I hesitate to make that statement (knowing how many will react to it), but it is the truth. My mind has obsessed over what I did wrong and what I should have done instead. I should have seen through the lies long before I did. I should have been braver in my questioning and thinking. And on and on the list in my head goes.

The fifth stage is acceptance. I thought I had reached this stage a few months ago, but have recently realized that it is now that I am truly experiencing it. I am accepting of my upbringing. I am accepting of what my past was. Perhaps most importantly, I am accepting of religion. Rather than having a blanket disregard or hate of religion, I hate how it can be used to abuse people; that will never change. I’m very happy to have moved past the anger.

I have moved past a lot of things but I will never forget them. There will always be a certain level of anger when I think back or hear new stories about the crazy things that come with fundamentalism. I will still write about these things, but I will also write about other things. I now see positive aspects of religion and can accept its presence in the world. Religion and mythology are often tied together quite strongly. Mythology has always fascinated me; now I see how important it is to the human experience. We learn from stories. We find ourselves amongst the characters and learn from their triumphs and failures. Learning from a story and taking it too seriously are quite different approaches, though. Fundamentalism comes into play when people take their mythology too seriously. Fundamentalism is something I will never accept.

Laughable but Serious

Here’s some reading that is scary, serious, hilarious… etc. These sets of belief have some similarities, and remind me of the freaky cults whose members end up drinking “kool-aid.”

Scientology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology
The teachings of David Icke: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Icke

You’ll probably be left wondering, “Who on earth believes this stuff?” The list is surprisingly long and includes many people who could be considered brilliant. Smart people do/believe dumb things. People (especially crackpots) can be extremely persuasive about their ideas. Don’t allow yourself to be swept up by such people or their ideas – do your homework, do your homework, do your homework!!!!

A Link and Some Thoughts

For those who repeatedly claim that we weren’t true Christians, please read this article.

I was certainly a very active member of Christianity – one who prayed, read my Bible, served at church, and sought to be godly above all else. Nobody questioned my faith or sincerity. No-one. It was very, very real. The points made in that article, particularly on this topic, were excellent. The author also points out that many who preach against people who are different (atheists, homosexuals, etc.) don’t really know those people. They know the concept, and they know why it’s “sinful,” but they have little to no personal experience with those people. For a complacent congregation who also has little to no dealings with the “enemy,” the leader’s words sound just and righteous, and so the cycle of ignorance continues.
All throughout history, those who blindly followed what they’re told were the ones who were led astray into atrocities. Those who asked questions and sought the truth saved themselves and others from the mistakes of ignorance and complacency. Had the Germans questioned Hitler’s propaganda and chosen to think freely instead of believing the lies, a lot of people (namely Jews) wouldn’t have died such horrific deaths. Had many Catholics chosen to ask questions instead of blindly follow those in authority over them (the Pope), then countless thousands of people would not have died during events such as the Inquisition. The Crusades, the Salem witch trials… just how many people have been killed or hurt by the ignorant followers of impassioned zealots? Such crazy men as Hitler would not have gotten so far without the support and blind belief of other people.
Don’t believe everything that you’re told, even if it has been culturally accepted for thousands of years. Never stop asking questions. Finding the truth may not be comfortable, and implementing it into your life is certainly uncomfortable, but it is well worth it.

Brief Thoughts on "The Will of God"


She has a very good point…. 
When anyone (my past self included) presumes to know the will of God – be it from a sudden realization, from a passage of Scripture they read, whatever – their knowledge is tainted by their personal views, desires, experiences. So, what is the difference here between Christians and non-Christians? Non-Christians have sudden epiphanies and then tell people, “Hey! I just had a great idea! I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and after a lot of research, counsel, and trouble-shooting, I now know what I should do.” Christians have the same epiphany experience and tell people, “Hey! Guess what God showed me today! Yup, He definitely revealed His will to me. Praise God for showing a sinner like me what He wants for my life!”
It’s not that they have a very different experience, just that one person has the guts to take responsibility for their work and ideas while the other group claims it’s divinely inspired and now a holy quest. Conversely, when the non-Christian discovers he/she was wrong about the former decision/action, they can take responsibility for the mistake and change the course of action. If the Christian feels he/she was in the wrong, either they must think God had a bad idea (blasphemy!) or His once-so-clear guiding was grossly misunderstood, and if the Christian so grossly misunderstood things, well, he must be “living in sin” or something, right? 
Personally, in my past, I would read through the Bible regularly, study it through outside writing about it, and pray to God every day – I wanted to know His will. As I read and prayed, I thought about everything I saw and felt, and from those experiences I drew conclusions about what was the right thing to do, and considered it to be God’s will. Then later on down the road, when I realized that my original conclusion was wrong, I would feel confused (it had been so clear before, and that was what Scripture had said) and then feel a sense of guilt for being such a sinful idiot for misunderstanding things. After all, God wasn’t cruel and vindictive enough to lead me on or hide His perfect will from one of His children… was He? If I sought Him earnestly and did as His Bible told me to do, was I not following Him and considered to be His child? Consider this passage:

Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” ~ Luke 13:23-27

Ah, so apparently Jesus does not accept all those who seek Him out, which contradicts other passages in which He clearly states that all those who seek Him will be saved. A contradiction? Heavens no – it cannot be! Sadly, the contradiction of free will and predestination is very real, and has been for centuries – it has divided the supposed Bride of Christ into multiple camps, each claiming to be correct and warring with the other camps. If God were so loving and kind, why would He leave such confusing words in His book, because surely He knew it would divide His children and hurt the soundness of His words? After all, Paul teaches in I Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
All of this is a small part of why I have denounced the Bible and Christianity as being totally man-made and therefore not worthy of following. It claims perfection and divine authorization, yet its text is riddled with contradictions, confusing passages, and historical references that are not historically accurate. It is not what it claims to be, therefore it is a lie. 

Does Belief Matter?

What makes a religion, or any other belief, good or valid?
People of all faiths can talk about their experiences, the good feeling or peace that their beliefs bring them. So, the question that always bugged me is: Are all of the experiences, emotions, whatever that people have valid, or is only set’s real? Christians claim to be the only truth in the world, and other religions make similar claims. If only one set of beliefs is the truth, then the experiences of everyone else must be invalid. To a Bible-believing Christian, the happiness of the Buddhist or Muslim is somehow fake, because the only “true” happiness is found in Christ. The followers of Christ should, by default, be the happiest people in the world. All of their problems are simply explained as happening in order to bring glory to God, right? Then Christians should welcome their every trial and tribulation as just another opportunity to bring God glory. People with chronic illnesses and debilitating conditions should just accept them with joy, since they have such a great opportunity to bring glory to their God. Their beliefs sustain them, and are the source of their happiness. Everyone else in the world has beliefs, and their beliefs also bring them happiness and fulfillment. But, only one set’s happiness and fulfillment is real… or is that just an exclusionary lie? Is the rest of the world simply faking their happiness and fulfillment? Or, horror-of-horrors, could be it be true that all beliefs are valid, in the sense of bringing the believer happiness and personal fulfillment (along with all the emotions and experiences associated with “discovering the truth”)? Is all truth set in stone, or can it be relative? History is full of people who found joy and contentment in believing what we now know to be lies. Was their joy lesser than anyone else’s?
It seems to come down to the act of believing in something, rather than what that something is or isn’t, is what brings fulfillment and joy in one’s life.