Spiritual Experiences

When I discuss religion and faith with other people, I find myself most interested in why they chose their particular path. For some their decision was greatly impacted by their family and heritage. For others, it was a spiritual experience that led them to choose a particular religion and/or deity. Spiritual experiences fascinate me.

While I was a Christian I had very few spiritual experiences, perhaps because the IFB world I was raised in downplayed personal experiences and the Holy Spirit. I suppose that’s why we were fundamentalists, though, because we stuck to what we perceived to be the fundamental teachings of the Bible – people of the Book and all that jazz. I had a friend in school who was a member of a Pentecostal church, where the Holy Spirit and personal experience was emphasized more heavily. I never attended any of their services, but the stories I heard were certainly interesting! I imagine the ecstatic fervor that is a hallmark of Pentecostal services would have been scary because it was so far from what I thought was normal. I’ve been to several church services (of varying denominations) over the years that made me very uncomfortable because the church members felt comfortable enough to show honest emotions while worshiping. I’m secretly jealous of how genuine they allow themselves to be while in public.

After I left Christianity I began to study other religions more in-depth than I had previously.
I began to recognize that spirituality and spiritual experiences were universal things… and that the non-Christian forms were not evil and Satanic. Fundamentalist Christianity tends to make the horrible claim that all forms of spirituality that aren’t Christian stem from Satan and his demons. Even as a Christian, I was puzzled by such claims, because plenty of people in other religions had lovely experiences and did wonderful things. They weren’t evil and certainly didn’t act like they were being mislead by a demon! It’s very liberating to no longer feel obligated to label people’s faiths in such judgmental ways. Instead, I am coming to respect the variety that exists in the world – different doesn’t mean wrong or right, just different.

I’ve had several spiritual experiences since I left Christianity, and each has nourished my soul and made me a better person. When other people tell me of their spiritual experiences, I feel no need to discount them if they don’t line up with my brand of faith. I feel that the Divine works through all religions. My mother, who had a spiritual experience when she chose Christ and Christianity, is confident and happy in her faith. I have no desire to pull her out of her faith. I do desire that she is as accepting of my spirituality as I am of hers, though. Fundamental Christians are often quite loud about salvation experiences, because they feel that these experiences prove they have found THE path to the Divine. I take issue with that mentality, and think it’s a bit ridiculous given the fact that people all over the world have had spiritual experiences for thousands of years, regardless of their chosen faith.

So… what are my beliefs these days? I rather like Unitarian Universalism, because it embraces respectful recognition of all beliefs (including atheism and agnosticism). I believe there is a Divine presence in the universe, and that this presence manifests itself in many forms – male, female, both, genderless, etc. The Divine exists in all of us. I also believe the Divine can be reached through many paths – there is no right or wrong way. As many others before me, I too hope that interfaith love and peace will be achieved one day.

Article: 15 Things Not to Say to a Recovering Fundamentalist

Defeating the Dragons has written another post that I must share; read it here.

I have been told most, if not all, of the things she lists; I find them equally as infuriating as she does. Perhaps the most infuriating phrase on her list is, “You were never really a Christian.” To have someone else decide  your personal beliefs weren’t sincere enough or real is very insulting. Most Baptists I know have no trouble saying that to/about anyone who left the faith. Another phrase that stood out was, “If you are truly seeking God in this time, he will lead you to the Truth.” The assumption that Christianity, particularly the fundamentalist version of Christianity, is absolute Truth (to the exclusion of everything outside of it) fuels so many un-Christian thoughts and actions. I’m so thankful I no longer hold to a belief that is so exclusive.

13. “Be careful you don’t lose your faith.” — Hännah

People are genuinely concerned about us, and just want to make sure that we’re ok. However, the concept that we could be “ok” without religion, without Christianity– it’s a little bit too far outside the box for a lot of Christians. To a lot of the people I know, living without their faith would be pretty unthinkable. Thoughts like “I don’t know how people survive without Jesus” (which is a modern remix of “you can do all things through Christ”) are pretty common among Christians– and they mean it. To be honest, I’ve said that sort of thing on more than one occasion. But, let me assure you: we are just fine. For a lot of us, “losing our faith” was the best– and hardest– thing that ever happened to us.

It’s certainly been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Article: What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear

What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear

After reading the comments the author chose to highlight, I came to the conclusion that these people were mostly referencing fundamentalist Christians. Many fundamentalists find great joy in the notion that their lives and tactics are odious to unbelievers. How do you (the non-fundamentalist) have a discussion with someone who feels that way? – You don’t.
I found this comment to be incredibly insightful:

“The main thing that baffles and angers me about Christians is how they can understand so little about human nature that when, in their fervor to convert another person, they tell that person (as they inevitably do, in one way or another), ‘You’re bad, and wrong, and evil,’ they actually expect that person to agree with them. It pretty much guarantees that virtually the only people Christians can ever realistically hope to convert are those with tragically low self-esteem.”– E.S., Denver

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.

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.