I was thinking this morning about some of my old "friends" from previous churches this morning. I've cut ties with most of these people, but there are still a few that show up in my Facebook feed sometimes. People that I got to know a little more than casually, but still wouldn't look up if I was in town. You know how it is. But when I started to think about these people and why we were ever considered friends in the first place, I realized that the only commonality was a shared religion.
Typically when I make good friends, it is because we have shared interests. I have a good friend who I call my Book Buddy, because we are both very well read and can talk about books for hours. Many of my friends are geeks like me with some interest in at least one of the following: Sci-fi, Action/Adventure movies, Superheroes, Comic Books, D&D, Writing, Reading, Board Games, Video Games, History, Archaeology, or Science. My really good friends share several of these interests. With my church friends though, the commonality seemed to be only a belief in a god. We were expected to connect, not through any common extracurricular activities, but rather a theistic belief system. Looking back, this seems ridiculous because it meant that people with vastly different personalities and interests were being thrown together and expected to become fast friends.
Let's look at some examples:
Laurel - Laurel was a beautiful petite girl who was extremely talented in the areas of graphic design and photography. She used these talents to work for the church creating their weekly pamphlets, helping with video editing, and setting up the PowerPoint slides on Sunday. She loved getting her nails done, romance movies, and her much younger little sister. She was terrified of trying new things and refused to move anywhere that would take her away from her little sister even though she was a grown adult. We were often teamed up together when volunteering because we got along all right. I spent a lot of time with this girl and yet wouldn't call her my friend. She seemed emotionally distant and had little regard for other people's feelings. Her talents were appreciated, but in the end wasted.
Trevor - Trevor was also part of the core group at the same church as Laurel. Trevor played guitar for the worship team, had an acceptable Hipster beard, and was outgoing. As an extrovert, he seemed to make friends easily and fast. Yet, he was a complete flake. They would often have unscheduled worship team meetings and get-togethers, but would "forget" to invite certain people just because they didn't feel like hanging out with them that night. I saw this man several times a week for four years straight and yet when I bumped into him at the grocery store, he would act like he didn't recognize me. Beyond a shared religion, there was absolutely no connection there. Yet, we were expected to get along for no other reason than we both were a part of the worship team.
Clarion - Clarion was a handsome woman who was obsessed with the Red Sox, traveling, and finding a good Christian man. She was extremely friendly, but would suffer no negativity surrounding the pastor of the church nor his family. She worshiped the ground they walked on, babysat their children, and eventually quit her career to work as the church secretary. At one point she tried to sabotage a man's relationship because she had a crush on him and he ended up leaving the church over it. Clarion was my friend as long as I attended her church, agreed with the pastor, and was volunteering. Her friendship was contingent on these three things. The minute I started to question the pastor, Clarion became guarded. When I decided not to go to her church anymore after moving back from Boston, she was horribly offended and that was the end of that "friendship". Looking back though, we didn't have much of a friendship to begin with. We had nothing in common beyond GOD.
Danielle - Danielle and I were the main female singers at a small church and were in the same small group. We saw each other at least three times a week. Occasionally we would "get the girls together" (all from church) and go see some cheesy romantic comedy and grab dinner. We were constantly trying to find common interests, but other than a love of books (and never the same books) there was zilch. She couldn't even come to game night because her husband is such a competitive asshole that even a game of Apples to Apples was unenjoyable for them. To be clear, this guy was fairly nice about everything else, but his competitive side made any kind of game that involved winning and losing a nightmare. I knew this woman for four years and yet at the end of the day, didn't develop a lasting friendship because apparently, believe it or not, gawd wasn't enough to form a friendship.
The problem with all of this is that I have heard it preached from every pulpit that community is important. That connecting with other Christians is part of being a Christian. Whether this is right or wrong is beside the point. The point is, rather than connecting Christians with similar interests, they seem to believe that gender and age are the things that really build connection. I would have really loved a book club, one that didn't read bad Christian novels either, but a real book club where we read actually decent books and discussed them from a Christian perspective. How awesome would it have been to have a board game group that had a small Bible study followed by an hour or two of gaming? Or at the very least connecting people who like to volunteer for similar things like Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald house, or Book Harvest. By the by, whenever there was something even remotely like these things, I formed a book better connection with the people in that group.
What I am not finding as an atheist is that the new friendships I am forming, based on common interests and meshing personalities, are so much better than the superficial ones created within a church. And looking at my good friends, the ones who have withstood the test of time, I have realized that all of those friendships were also built through commonalities rather than faith. Of course, I still have a few friends who are devoted Christians, but when I examine why we are friends, it is not because of God. Also, none of my good friends have ever attended the same church as me. Food for thought. Are these friendships that folks are making at church really that deep or are they just superficial and based purely on mutual deity worship? I'm sure some are genuine, but would love to know how many people suddenly found themselves without friends when they walked away from the church.
Have you ever wondered how a cult gets started? How people can believe crazy shit that sounds like it was made up by a screwed up and slightly-psychotic teenager? Let me present to you our son. Yes, the one we are working on adopting. Now, for those unfamiliar with kids in the system, mental illnesses brought on through trauma is a fairly normal thing. This doesn't necessarily mean something like schizophrenia, but instead something like maladaptive daydreaming or teenage dissasociative disorder. These kids, often emotionally well behind their physical age, will make up stories in order to help cope with the life they have lived. Sometimes this just means lying to themselves or convincing themselves that they are the cause for being in care, even if the reason was due to abuse or neglect. Some create fantasy stories in which their mom was secretly a CIA agent and that is why they had to be taken away, for their protection. These kids will tell everyone about it, trying to convince other kids that this is the truth and doubling down if someone calls them out on it.
If you are our kid, you make up your own fantasy religion. Here's the basic gist of it: S is secretly a warrior angel sent from heaven to meat out justice to people who hurt him. This god, although having no attributes of any of the written gods, is in fact the Messianic Jewish god. (conveniently the religion his mother converted to when he was eight) Although there are people who have hurt him, he remains friends with those people because they too are secretly angels, therefore letting his friends get away with things that his "enemies" never would. He has no proof or evidence beyond his word, but insists that there is one other person out there who can corroborate his story. (not that this would be evidence in the slightest) When I questioned some of this, the story changed slightly to him actually being the reincarnated Ares, the god of war who is actually an angel. All the ancient gods are actually just angels who people chose to worship as gods. It doesn't matter if they claim to be a god...or even the one and only god. They are just angels who wanted fame and power. Even the good ones who rebuffed fame and power, but it wasn't their fault human beings wanted to worship them. He tried to....get this...use Naruto (as in the Manga) as proof that what he said was true. As if Naruto is a religious holy book. As if the authors of that book haven't explained in detail their thought processes and how they created the series.
I know what you are thinking, holy shit....you are adopting a kid who is clearly schizophrenic. Except I don't think he is. We will be speaking with his therapist tomorrow, but I really think that this is his way of trying to explain all the crappy things that have happened to him. And he so badly wants to be seen as tough and strong. He wants people to be afraid of him and the truth is he is a scrawny, lazy, seventeen-year-old with pimples, greasy hair, and no muscle mass. He is anything but tough. I think someone, probably his step-dad, taught him that he needed to be tough in order to be a man. This has been reiterated at the group home. And in his adolescent and immature brain, the toughest things that he can think of is Ares the god of war and immortal angels. Obviously, if he really believes this, that is deeply concerning, but I really don't think he does.
Let's also add something to this complex situation: Adoption Sabotage. I firmly believe that something we did over this weekend caused this kid to freak out about the upcoming move and adoption. All weekend he was lying, manipulating, and cheating. He and my husband were having a constant battle of wills. The conversation that led up to these revelations were tough foster care stuff. He has also done this before to two other previous pre-placement adoptive families. He chose to back out of those adoptions. It would really suck, especially after 9 months of this back and forth shit for him to decide to back out of this, but that's his choice. We have said from the beginning that this is as much his choice as ours. If he is so fucked up that he sabotages this, then there is nothing we can do about it. Truth is, this kid should have been living with us months ago and we should be dealing with this in our home, not over the phone at the group home.
Last thing: S said that if I ever told anyone about these revelations (even though he has clearly told several people this himself) that he would be killed by God. This is absolutely manipulation and I refuse to remain silent. First, because he needs to get help so his therapist must know. Second, because I don't keep secrets from my husband. Third, because he doesn't get to make up a religion, share that with me, and then try to blackmail me into not talking about it. I can keep a secret, but this isn't one that should be kept nor does it need to be. We are talking about a serious mental health issue here, not some rumor about your cousin's boyfriend. Finally, I am the last person that this kid should have told. Not only am I your mother, but he also knows that I am a skeptic and an atheist. He knew I wouldn't believe him before he even began. But he chose to do so anyways, which tells me that this really was an adoption sabotage technique. Because my husband, Hades love him, would have at least given some credence to this made-up religion in a way that I never would.
So fun times. Can't wait to see how the next few weeks play out. I am so glad I took Tuesday off. I needed a day to recover from S's shenanigans.
Whenever people talk about the atrocities that have been committed in the name of Christianity, they often revert straight to The Crusades and The Spanish Inquisition, which were certainly terrible but in the grand scheme of things, I think were actually small in comparison to some of the other things pious Christians have done in the past 2000ish years.
Watching a recent documentary about archaeology and the Mayan civilization reminded me of it. Of course, if you recall your high school textbooks, the Spanish arrived on the shores of what is now Mexico and began to systematically enslave, torture, rape, and vandalize the Inca and Mayan peoples. What those textbooks usually gloss over the the absolute annihalation of an entire people group by destroying their culture. The Mayans had books. Carefully written and preserved on accordian-like paper made from fig trees. Everyone in their civilization was taught how to read, but only priests wrote down the histories of their people. In 1562, Bishop Diego de Landa ordered the destruction of these codices declaring the books to be "lies of the devil". He rejoiced in the pain of the people as they watched their history burn. The Catholic church and priests also banned any kind of worship to their ancient gods, the destruction of instruments, and killed anyone who they heard singing songs. Only church hymns were allowed. With two generations the Mayan way of life was extinct, destroyed by a church who believed fully that they were in the right to bring their religion to these savages. As a book lover, there is a great deal of sadness in knowing that such priceless works of art and history were destroyed because one group of people believed in a god and the others believed in another.
This was the fate of many native peoples. Christopher Columbus said, "I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter in your country and shall make war against you ... and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church ... and shall do you all mischief that we can, as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord and resist and contradict him." The smallpox epidemics that ravaged the natives was seen as a "marvelous goodness and providence of God". Within 4 years of Columbus landing in Cuba, nearly 4 million people had been killed and within 50 every single local indigenous person had died either by disease, starvation, or murder. It was actually considered sport to hunt them and shoot them full of arrows. An Indian chief named Hatuey tried to flee with his people and was burned alive. He refused to convert and told the priest that "if heaven was where the Christians went, he would rather go to hell." The deaths of these people all across the Americas was seen as a judgment from the Almighty God. The few who opposed such violence were seen as soft-hearted fools. The pious New-Englanders successfully wiped out nearly 98% of the Natives living near them, delighting in their deaths. An estimated 50 million Native Americans were killed directly by violence. That makes the Holocaust seem almost paltry. And here's the best part, I actually knew people growing up who were missionaries to Native Americans. My parents supported their ministry financially and always seemed amazed that more people weren't converting, sure that it was just a matter of time. Why would anyone convert to the religion that not only supported, but also rejoiced in your genocide?
Christians also have an idealic version of how Christianity spread throughout the world. They often use the illogical fallacy of 'argumentum ad populum'. Look at all the people who are Christians now. They can't possibly all be wrong. But how did Christianity spread? Was it because people like Saint Patrick walked around the countryside putting children on his knee and showing people three-leaf clovers? This was the version I was taught. That everywhere the disciples (disciples referring to anyone who was a follower of Christ), they shared the good news and people converted. What they didn't teach were how Christian mobs would enter towns and destroy pagan temples and the priests within them. Remember, pagan in this context is not referring to witchcraft, but rather anyone who wasn't Christian. By 356 AD, anyone attending a pagan service would be punished with death. Even children were executed, sometimes for benign reasons, like when Christian Emperor Theodosius executed a child for playing with the remains of a pagan statue. This man prided himself in following the Christian teachings meticulously. By the 6th century, anyone claiming to be pagan was declared void of all rights. The world famous philosopher Hypatia, a librarian at Alexandria's library was torn to pieces by a hysterical Christian mob. Being non-Christian was dangerous. There were converts everywhere and they were happily turning in their neighbor in an effort to please their god. Worship of the old gods was driven below ground. Some probably converted in order to just stay alive. Wherever Christianity spread, it brought death, destruction, and pain along with it. I have actually heard Christians say that those early peoples abandoned their faiths and idol worship because they never really believed on those old gods anyway. Because who would abandon their faith so easily? I imagine that if Christianity was being treated in this fashion though, that there are a great many people who would leave their faith behind, perhaps secretly still believing it, but knowing that to have a cross in their house would be death and destruction to their families. You only have to look at majority Muslim countries in which apostacy is punishable by death. Those who don't believe must remain eternally silent for fear of their lives. Is it any wonder that such a devastating and brutal religion would not have converted people by the droves?
Let us also not forget how the church and politics were tied together. When Emperor Charlemagne overtook cities, he demanded their immediate conversion. Those unwilling were beheaded. In one town, 4500 Saxons were beheaded for being unwilling to convert. Taxation was was also tied to faith because the money went to the church as well. Those who refused to pay the church tax were often killed. In May of 1234 thousands of peasant men, women, and children were slain in Germany for just such a refusal. In Ireland, in an effort to civilize the barbaric wild Irish, Humphrey Gilbery beheaded some of them and laid their bodies out on the ground for the people to see what would happen to them if they didn't convert. But I'm sure it was really the good news of Jesus Christ, that really won these people over.
Not even Christians were immune to such hideous treatment should they end up on the wrong end of theology. Thomas More disagreed with King Henry VII break from the Catholic church and was an adamant opponent of Martin Luther, for this he was beheaded as a traitor to the crown. Did you know there was a sect of Christianity called the Manichaean's who believed in birth control and for this they were savagely wiped out? Same for the Albigensians, Waldensians, Paulikians, Runcarians, and Josephites. Most of these sects were exterminated. In the 17th century a Catholic mob killed the Protestant leader Gaspard de Coligny. After murdering him they cut off his hands, head, and genitals before dumping him in a river and then decided that being eaten by fish was too good for him so they took him out again and strung his body up in the gallows to be eaten by worms and birds. Yeah, that's some serious Christian love right there.
I knew a lot of this even when I was a Christian because obviously I am a bit of a history buff. My cognitive dissonance was off the charts though because I somehow convinced myself that all those people weren't really Christians. They couldn't be. Who would be okay with murdering innocent people? Except that I understand now that those people loved a god just as much as the ones today. We are appalled by mobs killing people for religious reasons now because it is considered cruel and inhuman. Yet, I know many people who I think are capable of murdering someone in the name of Jesus should societal norms shift in a particular direction. My mother believes that women who have abortions deserve the death penalty. She would be more than willing to support a proposal to say as much and would probably, happily, report on women she knew who had one. And she would do so believing she was doing God's work. That is no different than a woman in ancient times reporting that the family next door is hiding a statue of Aphrodite under their floorboards. I use Christianity in this because that is the religion I know well, but we all know that this kind of behavior is not unique to Christianity. Muslims are notorious for their draconian apostacy laws, which often result in imprisonment and death. I've seen quite a few Hindu mobs in the news lately that are quite disturbing. It saddens me the amount of knowledge that has been lost over the centuries due to religion's fervent desire to be right. I can only dream of a world in which we discover a wealth of Mayan codices hidden away somewhere, revealing a world we will never fully understand without it. And although I am still a closeted atheist and agnostic, I will defy this notion that I have to remain quite forever.
Husband and I spent three days in D.C. with the sole purpose of the trip being to visit with our nieces and nephew. The kids belong to one of my husband's brothers and wife who live a two days drive away so when they announced that they would be taking a family vacation only a few hours from us, we jumped at the opportunity to visit. I've known my husband for over five years now, but this is only the second time we have met. They are also the family members who have adopted before and are huge adoption & foster care advocates. It is nice to have someone to ask questions of and who understands this whole process, even if they lived in another state when they did it.
But these people are also super Christians with a very different idea of what adoption should look like than us. For example: They recently took in a nineteen-year-old they had worked with while working in a group home many years ago. He was welcomed with open arms...although their home and love were contingent on two things: He needed to get a job and he had to attend church with them. That's right, in order to move in with a family and receive the love that you so desperately crave, he is required to go to church with them. This is all kinds of messed up to me, but for them it was a no-brainer. They didn't even think twice about it. Any kid of theirs has to attend church with them. This was the requirement when I was a kid living with my parents too. Skipping church simply wasn't an option.
While touring one of the D.C. museums by brother-in-law and sister-in-law were approached by a man who recognized them through their various work with foster care and adoption. I thought it was super cool that they have earned a bit of celebrity status and were actually recognized on "the street" by one of their fans. As they talked, I entertained some of the littler ones with Snapchat...as you do. But my ears perked up when I heard my SIL say, "I am just so glad you are here and doing this work. We need more Christians in this. There just aren't enough of us advocating for these kids."
What the fuck are you talking about? The adoption community is FULL of Christians. Full. There isn't a single adoption or foster care support group in my immediate area that isn't Christian based. Some are basically Bible studied veiled as a support group. Every single conference I have been to has been chock-full of language like, "God blessed us" and "We are blessed" and "We prayed and..." All of them. Even though our adoption agency is not religious, I have yet to meet a single other foster or adoptive parent who doesn't profess to believe in a god.
I mentioned it to my husband later and he scoffed at this too. I know I have had some complaints concerning my husband's faith, but really, most of the time we are on the same page. He agrees that not only is it stupid to think there aren't enough Christians in the adoption/foster care world, but also thinks it is insufferable that something that shouldn't be so wrapped up in religion--is. For example: After a county run adoption conference where God was praised throughout the day by social workers who work for the state, my husband was quite annoyed. "It's just inappropriate." Nevermind that we both believe that such an environment will deter people who are not religious or Christian from doing foster care or adopting.
No sister-in-law, we do not need more religious people in adoption. What we need are more people of many different kinds of backgrounds because, contrary to their beliefs, not every kid should be dragged to church. And not every kid is religious or Christian.
Side note: BIL & SIL have had a rocky relationship over the past few years due to stress, starting a new business, the belief that porn is the equivalent to cheating, and six kids under the age of 10. When husband and his brother were alone, BIL kind of assumed that husband and I were having marital problems because why else would we want to hang out with them besides to get advice. Husband's family is dysfunctional, but seriously? I don't think BIL understands at all how important family is to me and how important it is that our nieces and nephews know us and hang out with us. I honestly don't give a shit about the adults. I mean, it would be nice to have a good relationship with my brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws, but I am perfectly okay with the children being the buffer of the relationship. Also, our marriage is fine thank you very much. The one major issue we have had has been sorted and we wouldn't tell them about it anyway. I am pleased to report that we are four years in and although marriage is certainly a careful balance of two individuals, we are very happy and comfortable.
One of the things that my future son does that annoys me is that he tells people (and us) that he sees visions of the future. This is usually tied directly into his belief in ghosts and the supernatural. Almost every vision has to do with something he wants and dreams of having. Last night he mentions another "vision" he had and then asks if I believe in visions. This is a hard one to answer, I told him. Because I don't want to downplay what you believe, but I also think that there are rational explanations to visions. So I told him about how I used to experience dreams and visions, some about the future. And I believed that God must have sent those dreams and visions to me. I lied to people about how they were from god when a part of me always knew that I had just come up with it in my imagination or that it was just a dream. Yet, when I began to analyze them, even when I was still a Christian, I began to question them. I was surrounded by religion as a child, we talked about heaven and hell all the time. Is it any wonder that I would have dreams about heaven? I also have a very active imagination and my church talked about the end times all the time. Is it any wonder that I would imagine scenarios about the end times? No. In fact, I wouldn't expect anything less.
My biggest issue with visions, I told him, is that I have never seen one come true. My mom prays all the time and tells me about things she saw that she believes God showed her. Her "visions" always seem to align with what she wants and most of the time they don't come true. You would think someone with a low batting average for correctly prophesying would stop after a while, but the rationale simply isn't there. "My mom and her friend told everyone that the other woman's cheating husband was going to come back to her. They prayed for three days and believed that this is what God told them. And they were wrong. Really wrong. He ended up marrying the lady he cheated with, had another child with her, and has been happily married for almost twenty years now." This, I finally told him, is when I began to question people having visions and talking to God. They can't all be talking to God, because everyone is coming up with completely different things. Catholics. Protestants. Jews. Evangelicals. The people who claim to see visions of the end times have been wrong. Every. Single. Time. In the end, there are many mysteries in this world and I would love to know the answers to them and will continually seek out an answer. Maybe that answer will lead me to a god, but I will only accept that answer based on evidence. I am no longer filling in the blank of a mystery with GOD.
I encouraged him to write down his visions in as much detail as possible and date them. Convoluted Confuscisms are not good enough. Evidence that his visions are real will show itself in time. If he believes that he is actually having visions and that it isn't a product of wishful thinking, an active imagination, or a desire to impress other people; this could be the evidence the world needs. But, I reminded him, so far there is no such evidence. Not a single person among the billions of people on this planet have been able to prove that human beings can have regular true visions from a deity. And even if you can prove that you are having visions of the future, that does not prove the existence of any one god. All it proves is that somehow you are seeing visions of the future. "And I must warn you," I told him. "This is how new religions and cults start. One leader claiming they can do something that no one else can. Convincing others. And then shaping religion to match whatever crazy notions of enlightenment they have come up with."
I'm not sure how this kid got so caught up in all this supernatural beliefs as it seems rather contrary to what his bio mom taught him, but he is obsessed. To the point where we won't allow him to watch horror films or shows. Don't want to provide him with more imagination fodder. Frankly, it's like he is a small child. Sure, there are plenty of adults who believe in ghosts, but most don't have a panic attack when they hear a noise they don't recognize.
Last night he sat down on the couch and the light flickered. He immediately freaked out. Jumped up, came running into our bedroom with fear in his eyes. My husband gave him a withering look and said, "Dude, your powers of deductions are terrible. You should look for natural explanations before immediately jumping to supernatural." He then showed him that there was a power strip that sits against the back of the couch. (I hate that it is there as it IS a fire hazard) When he sat down hard, the plug connected to the lamp moved a bit, which made the light flicker. "It also could have been a bulb going bad, a criss-crossed wire, the power strip failing or being shut off, or the lamp breaking since it was only $5. You need to analyze these things better." Coming from my god-believing husband, this was accepted. We have assured this kid multiple times that our apartment really really isn't haunted. My husband absolutely believes in ghosts and even he is like...kid, this place is unbelievably supernatural free. But this kid has an imagination and he will not be deterred.
I just hope that we have given him some things to think about. That he begins to really analyze the things he believes and quits jumping on the supernatural bandwagon every time a light flickers or he starts daydreaming.
When I tell people that I grew up in a very conservative Evangelical fundamentalist Christian home, I don't think people really understand what that means. "Imagine the Duggers," I say, "but without the clothing restrictions." Which isn't entirely true, because my mother had long hair and only wore dresses for a good decade. Yesterday, during Easter my dad reminded me of something that I should start telling people instead.
My parents believe that Adam & Eve were real people who fathered an entire race of people. Because young earth creationism does not have enough time to allow for adaptation or evolution within our species, my dad believes that Eve was popping out babies that were of different ethnicities. "Don't you think Eve was a bit surprised by that?" he asked yesterday while sitting on the porch. "I mean, first she has an Asian baby and then she has a black baby. And none of them looked anything like their parents because God gave them all extremely unique genetic codes in order to not have inbreeding." He knows that I don't believe this. My response was simply, "That's an interesting way of looking at it." It's not like I haven't heard this before folks. I used to believe it too. Additionally, my parents also believe that animals used to be able to talk. The evidence? Well, Adam & Eve weren't surprised that the snake talked to them, which means it must have been normal...therefore animals used to talk. Yeah.
It's crazy. There is absolutely no evidence of either of these things being true. The only reason these things are even considered is because, if you believe in a literalist interpretation of the Bible, you have to do these mental gymnastics in order to make everything line up to the world as we know it. My dad thinks that in the times of Noah the people were actually an advanced civilization, which is how Noah was able to build that giant ark. He had power tools. Seriously.
And you think that you can reason with these people? You think that by putting out evidence they will change their minds? These people live in a world that uses science only when necessary and explains the world only through the narrow lens of a literalist interpretation of the Bible. And some of you wonder why I don't tell them I am an atheist.
"Was church just silly to you?"
Of all the comments I have received on this blog, this is one that really stuck out to me. There is an assumption here, that by me having issues with the church, Christians, Christianity, or the Bible, that church was somehow just a game to me. That I never took it seriously. It straddles the fence of heading towards a 'No-True-Scotsman' fallacy, where the questioner wonders if you were ever very serious about it. Because if you weren't, then that would explain your lack of faith.
For the record, church, Christianity, and God were my life for a very long time. As a child I attended church three days a week (more if there was a revival on), went to a private Christian school, volunteered, helped my parents with children's church, sang on the children's choir, and in the church theater group. I had no friends who weren't Christians. The only people I knew who weren't were relatives who we prayed for every single evening at the dinner table. My family also did a daily devotional at dinner time and we were expected to pray at night when we went to bed and in the morning when we sent my dad off to work. On the regular my mother anointed our house with oil. We listened to only Christian radio and music and didn't own a television. I didn't like the no television bit, but I understood it all. And I took all of it very seriously and believed in all of it too.
As a teenager I attended not one but two youth groups. I continued to volunteer at a local soup kitchen with my church and started going on short-term mission trips. I graduated as an 'Honor Star' after a rigorous program and then did another program right after so that I could teach at my church. I taught my first Sunday School class at sixteen. I witnessed to people, attended protests, and was quite fearful of wordly outside influences. My parents discouraged anything in the STEM field because they didn't believe Christians could be scientists and still have their faith intact by the end. At seventeen I left my parents church because I wanted to be taken more seriously and treated as an adult. Within a year I was on the intercessory prayer group before church and was teaching a children's Sunday School class. I took this responsibility and devotion to God very seriously.
In my early twenties I moved churches because I was lonely. All the people my age were gone, there were no small groups, no young person's group, and the pastor kept forgetting my name...even though his daughter was in my class. So I moved short-term to a big friendly church in a converted warehouse. This church taught me that flashing lights and fancy chairs don't make up for a pastor with no seminary training and people who were more worried about appearing holy than being loving. Luckily that church was short-lived as I moved far away to Boston. There I sought out what I thought a church should be: diverse, community-oriented, generous, with trained pastors, and full of people who want to deal with some of the hard stuff of life. I found a wonderful church that met all of that. Despite going to school full-time and working full-time, I still found time to volunteer, help with sound on Sundays, and join a small group. I made some wonderful lasting friendships and visit with those people even now. I took all of this very seriously.
When I returned to the south after graduating, I was dismayed to find that my church in Boston was rather unique. I could find churches with trained pastors, but no outreach. Churches that focused on outreach, but weren't diverse. At all. Churches that were generous, but never tackled the hard stuff. Community-oriented, but without trained pastors. I settled for a church that said they were interested in getting into missions and outreach, even though they weren't currently doing so. I joined both teams and help organize a mission trip to the Dominican Republic as well as serving food to the homeless. This ministry still exists and my mother now volunteers with them every Monday. These things mattered to me. I spent a lot of time and effort helping form these groups and leading these groups. Oh and money, don't forget the money. No, this was very serious to me.
In my late-twenties, I moved to another city. Time to church shop again. I found a little church that partnered with people in the community, the pastor was trained, and the people were generous. No missions trips, but I was okay with that. I was starting to have some mixed feelings about short-term missions anyway. I sang on the worship team, was in two small groups, and when I met my husband, began dragging him to small groups too. One of my small group leaders wrote our reference for our adoption paperwork. It was here that I began to really investigate and confront my doubts. It wasn't because of the church that I had these doubts either, although I certainly began examining the sermons in a way I never had before. As I have stated before, despite all my issues with the church, my problem had to do with the Bible itself. And here's the thing, even when I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed, I continued to go to that church for several more months because of the commitments that I had made. Because I took it seriously.
Church for me, was never silly. It was a place where I could be silly, but the institution itself never was. The church was where I made friends, how I volunteered, where I sought recharges to my faith, a source of enlightenment and soul-searching. I have spent a great deal of time within the walls of a church, believing in what was being taught and bettering myself within a community of believers. One of the hardest things about not being in the church now is that I am having to learn how to make friends. Before, my friends were people in the various groups I was a part of. Many were friends of convenience, but I enjoyed spending time with them. Now, I have to find friends in places that feel rather unnatural. Talking to a stranger at a friend's birthday party, at a community event, at a writing group. To most people who weren't so wrapped up in the church, this may be a duh, but for me, it's a whole different world.
And I still think the church is a pretty serious place. I take them seriously, because they seem to have a lot of sway over people. More and more they are having a sway on our government. I attended a lot of churches that told people to love out of one side of their mouths, while degrading divorcees, feminists, the promiscuous, homosexuals, and anything or anyone else they deemed sinful. One of my good friends still attends a church that states that only a chosen elect will get into to heaven, even amongst Christians. Another posts quotes from her pastor that state that the end times are coming and has quite literally begun a stockpile of canned goods for her heathen neighbors for after the rapture, because they are going to need it. Another believes her mental illness was magically cured by a weekend retreat, because the woman at the retreat told her she was healed. I DO have some issues with the church, but I had these issues with the church even when I was a believer. These issues didn't appear when I started to doubt, nor did they bring on the doubt.
This past weekend I got into an interesting discussion with my brother and sister-in-law regarding counseling and specifically Christian counseling. I'm not entirely sure how we got on the topic only that my suggestion that one of my good friends needed to do some marriage counseling was met with a harumph and a "I'm not convinced that marriage counseling actually works." After all, they have several anecdotal experiences in which people they know went to marriage counseling and they still ended up divorced. This, of course, made me want to know the actual statistics because anecdotal evidence is not exactly the most reliable source of information. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, families and couples who have attended family or couples counseling have indicated high levels of patient satisfaction. Over 98% report that they received good or excellent therapy and over 97% believe they got the help they needed. Counseling is not an indicator of whether a marriage will hold together though. Of the couples who go to counseling, almost a third will end up divorced. This does not mean the counseling didn't work. Most couples go into marriage counseling/couples therapy because they are having relational issues already, some bordering on collapse. I would say that the fact that two thirds of couples end up staying together after seeking therapy tells me that it works.
Their argument went further than this though. Try to follow me on this logic. If you are going to go to a therapist it should be a Christian one. Non-Christian/secular psychologists and therapists don't care if your marriage stays together. They are more concerned about the individual and meeting the needs of the individual within a relationship. Therefore, they encourage divorce. Christian counselors at least understand the sanctity of marriage and will encourage couples to stay together. And if the person isn't a Christian, why do they care anyway? Why even bother getting married? Marriage is a gift from God and is holy. If you are already sleeping and living with someone, what is the point of getting married? And if it isn't working out, why would you bother to salvage that relationship? Without God, marriage is pointless, which is probably why marriage counseling doesn't work (according to them).
I did at this point try to point out that marriage existed long before Christianity or even Judaism. Job of the Bible-fame is described as being married and it is believed that this story was written before Abraham. Nevermind that people of all religions and philosophies have gotten married for a long time. "But it was just a contract," my brother said. "They're only getting married for the tax benefits and a piece of paper." I wanted to reply with something like, well if all marriage is is a holy exchange with a god, then why did you get a marriage certificate? Shouldn't your vows in front of a pastor have been enough for you? But I held my tongue. As for people living together and then getting married...well, we live in a western society in which the way that we show our love for someone is to eventually make a lifelong commitment to them through something called marriage. Not everyone does this and in my mind, that is fine, but marriage is usually seen as the goal in a relationship, healthy or not. Why would someone who is Buddhist not want to make that commitment too? I was a Christian when I got married, but even if I hadn't been, I would have married my husband because I loved him and wanted to spend my life with him.
The conversation then deviated from coupes counseling to therapy in general. Sister-in-law has two cousins who are currently seeing the same therapist and have both declared that they are gay. Since sister-in-law and brother believe being gay is unnatural and a sin, they are automatically assuming that it is the therapist who has somehow convinced them of this deviant lifestyle. They don't actually know anything about the therapists religion, but have assumed that if she encourages homosexuality, she must not be a Christian. Also, oldest cousin is now admitting that she likes guys too and is very confused about this since she believed herself to be a lesbian. There are several explanations for this revelation in my mind though. 1) Both girls are gay. The fact that they have the same therapist and both came out as lesbians is purely coincidental. 2) Oldest cousin is bisexual and being sixteen is still trying to sort it all out as she ages and matures. 3) Both girls are seeing a bad therapist who has planted ideas into their heads about sexuality that they aren't really struggling with. 4) Both girls are gay, but are seeing a bad therapist who isn't helping them walk through this minefield of sexuality.
I know there are bad therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists/counselors out there. We all do. They are humans and some bring way too much of their personal opinions into the job, rather than approaching it in a clinical and scientific way. My son's bio mother had a therapist write a note to the court stating that she shouldn't have any contact with her son for her emotional well-being. Who writes a letter like that? I know bio mom lies. A lot. And it is possible she has lied out her ass to her unsuspecting therapist. It is also possible she has a crappy therapist who actually encouraged the idea of a mother and son (a minor mind you, who had no say in it) never talking to each other again. It was with this knowledge that I challenged my brother and sister-in-law with the notion that Christians make better counselors. What about pastors? Ones who took one course in college and are now doing marriage counseling? Or a psychologist who firmly believes divorce is a sin and so she would encourage someone in an abusive relationship to stay married, just because she has such an issue with it? (coincidentally, this is the kind of advice that brother and SIL give all the time) "Well," my brother huffs. "Abuse is different. We're not talking about such extremes here." I mentioned Marc Driscoll, the ex-pastor of Mars Hill church and best-selling author, who used to give marriage counseling. He is such a misogynist though that the "counseling" turned into him telling the woman that everything wrong with their marriage was her fault and that she was demon-possessed. He also accused her of having an "affair of the heart" because she was having a hard time having sex with her husband. All of this while her husband sat in the room with a smug expression on his face. In the end, she got a divorce. It wasn't because she didn't go to a Christian counselor. It wasn't because her pastor didn't believe. It was because her pastor had such strong opinions that ended up making him a fucking awful counselor. Christian does not equal good counseling. All it means is that they may share your values. That's it.
What I wanted them to understand is that marriage is marriage. Some people take it more seriously then others. Some Christians take it more seriously than others. It's also super tricky. This is all purely subjective. What works for one person may not work for another. And just because you are a Christian does mean you are qualified to offer advice or counseling nor does it mean that your counsel will be good. They are living proof of good Christian people with good intentions who are offering terrible advice. There are therapists and counselors out there who are just like them. This is not the movie War Room. Prayer is not going to magically make your marriage better or stop your husband/wife from cheating on you. Believing in a god isn't going to stop your significant other from hitting you or being a narcissist. And just because you believe divorce is wrong, doesn't mean it is.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.