October 23, 2014

But Kayla Sue, You Weren't a Very Good Christian: Who am I to speak about Christianity when I was not a very good Christian?

I follow a variety of bloggers who have come from spiritually abusive fundamentalist backgrounds. Some of them came to the decision that there is no God, like me, and some of them did not, merely becoming more progressive Christians.

One point that often differentiates our critiques of religion is that I wasn't a very good Christian.

I'm young. I've touched on this a bit before, but I'm just shy of thirty by a few years--three, actually. And my late teens were a roller coaster ride, one that I am quite glad to be free of, actually.

At sixteen, I was no longer a purified, sanctified, endangered species virgin. I also shoplifted from a local Wal-Mart and got caught.

At seventeen, I attempted suicide.

At eighteen, I was pregnant with my oldest son.

At nineteen, I met the man that became my husband, and believe me, we weren't celibate for the six years we were engaged.

At twenty-two, I was pregnant with our younger son, and we moved in together

At twenty-five, we finally tied the knot, much to the relief of my very conservative Christian family.

That's eight years that I was NOT a good Christian. In fact, there's been some who have argued that maybe I was never "saved," and that that is, in fact, why I am an atheist now.

Those people aren't far from right. I wasn't ever saved--because there is no such thing. But they are also wrong, in that, I most certainly believed I was saved, for a very long time.

You see, I was always a questioner, and this made my spiritual life very tumultuous. I pushed back against the inherent irrationality of what I was being taught.

In kindergarten, which I attended at a small private Christian daycare, I asked a simple question during bible study: Why do bad things happen? I received that patent answer: Satan controls this world because Man sinned in the Garden of Eden.

But I couldn't leave well enough alone--"Why did God make Satan?" became the logical next step. I was five. That same question dogged me for most of my faithful years

I struggled with the disconnect between what I saw in my mother and what I was taught about myself, and the inherent misogyny of our religious interactions. While I felt the distinctly feminine things my body was programmed to do--periods, childbirth--were perfectly natural, I was confronted with scriptures that said they were unclean. Why would a loving God make me inherently unclean, at least once a month, every month I wasn't with child, for all of my childbearing years? If children were a blessing, why would God consider me unclean after bearing them?

I questioned why God would allow people who did terrible things to simply repent and enter heaven. This seemed like a "get out of jail free" card for me.

I wondered why there were so many "wrong" interpretations of Christianity. Those of you familiar with evangelical teachings know what I mean. Catholics are wrong. Methodists are less wrong. Lutherans and Episcopalians are quite wrong. Jehovah's Witnesses are super-de-duper wrong. Why? Why wouldn't God be more clear?

And again, the patent answers didn't make sense to me. They weren't logical.

I fought my questioning for most of my teen years, through three times a week services and youth activities. Through mission trips to save Catholics in Costa Rica. I actively suppressed it, because I knew how questioning our faith was viewed in our evangelical circles.

In the meantime, I was experiencing significant depression throughout my late teens and early twenties. With significant behavioral therapy, I eventually came to a place where I feel I manage it quite well. But at the time, the cycle was fueled, in part, by feeling that I was failing religiously. All of my friends seemed able to accept what we were taught. I lashed out, I did things I truly regret (and some that I don't). I hated myself for what I saw as my weakness and inability to follow God's simple path.

Things like sex were guilt-ridden for me. Because consent wasn't a topic that we discussed, I struggled with where to draw the line. We were taught that even kissing was too far, so when I kissed my boyfriend my junior year, I felt like, "Well, heck, I can't stop now." It wasn't that I was out of control, or that it was a moment of passion. It was that I truly believed, as I had been taught, that there was no putting that genie back in a bottle. I didn't realize that I could consent to a kiss without promising more, and I fully bought into the idea that I was responsible for safeguarding my boyfriend's spirituality.

Mentally, I crucified myself for these failings, and it became a constant layer of negative self-talk. Broken. Flawed. Weak. Can't even rely on Jesus. Always questioning, unable to just believe. It played on repeat through my mind.

My confidence was ravaged, and it took years to recover from the mental and emotional damage. I don't know that I am recovered even now--sometimes, I will still be struck by a near paralyzing fear of Hell, even though I have two very strong reasons for not believing in it. On the one hand, no God, no Hell, and on the other, there's so many Christian varieties that don't even believe in Hell that there's simply not good evidence for it. But it's that early religious programming, making its way into my head.

Between my mental health struggles and my questioning, the spiral seemed never ending. I would crawl back up, only to be sucked right back down.

This is why I feel qualified to speak out about the inherent harm of Christian beliefs. My faith wasn't a positive source of power. On the contrary, it fed that spiral of self-loathing and hatred for years. It may have created it, truthfully.

And while our beliefs were conservative and fundamentalist, they weren't extreme. We weren't calling for abortion clinic bombings. We weren't hating people. We loved people. That's why we didn't want them to go to Hell. That's why we needed them to believe exactly what we believed. We fought socially progressive change not because we wanted to control people, but because we believed that endorsing such change meant that our nation would lose favor with God and perhaps be destroyed. We truly believe that life and death hung in the balance. We weren't preaching against birth control. We didn't like alcohol much, but tobacco was okay. The inherent xenophobia of our teachings were honestly lost on us, but only one church that we attended was openly racist, and it folded after a few years.

While we strongly encouraged against kissing, like I mentioned above, we didn't practice courtship. We were allowed to hug, and hold hands. I went on solo dates.

Why is all of these important? I think it's really easy to write off many of the experiences of ex-fundamentalists as a result of the extremities of their doctrines. You look at someone that grew up in a Quiverfull home, for instance, and you think, "Well, of course they were unhappy. That shit's crazy."

But the truth is, these doctrines can't be divorced from most of Christianity. The doctrines lend themselves to negative self-images. The very idea that we are flawed, broken and weak is a foundational doctrine for much of the faith, and that idea is inherently damaging to human beings. So I think it is necessary to hear from people that had more "normal" (what is normal, anyway?) upbringings, because it creates a cohesive narrative about the harms that Christianity can do when it is blindly accepted and not subjected to questioning.

And that is why this former Bad Christian™ is here to stay.

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