You walked away from church, Now What?
Accepting that religion sucks
For my purposes, I define religion as any system of beliefs, rituals, and/or behaviors which an individual uses to feel that they have control over the uncontrollable things in their world and/or which they believe following gives them special favor with their version of god or whatever force controls the universe.
The problems with all religions stem from how people in the religious system view and treat those outside the religious system AND how they control people in the system.
Of course, this is simplistic and overgeneralizing thousands of years of religious history, but I have found this understanding of religion very helpful in analyzing what it is I hate and want to avoid.
2. Owning Your experience of how much religion sucks
I actually think it is a very healthy exercise to start a journal of things that you have seen in church or religious culture (like Christian schools) and list all of the crap that you hate. I promise it is OK. If you still believe in God or wonder if there’s a God out there, tell him*how horrible all the stuff is that you’ve seen and how angry, hurt, bitter, sad, and hopeless it has left you. At the very least, this can serve as a reminder of all the things that you want to avoid.
The list of things that you want to avoid is incredibly important, because being a good person is harder than it seems. I hate judgmentalism when it’s applied to me and people I care about, but I sure am good at it when it comes to people who disagree with my politics and stance on issues of justice. I want to avoid all the other pitfalls of religion so I try to constantly guard against the things I’ve seen.
3. Resources to help you
If you take only one piece of advice from me, let it be this: Read Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown!!!! This book changed my life! I understood that all my life I had been desperately longing for true belonging but I had been seeking it through fitting in with religion.
The internet is full of places to rant and read about all of the problems with religion. If you want thoughtful help in processing, I recommend following the Twitter #exvangelicals for stories of people all along the spectrum of beliefs but united in hating religious abuse.
For in-depth thoughtful processing, I recommend reading:
Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell.- probably the most thorough and well thought out arguments against religion that I’ve ever heard. Russell is a foundational leader in critical thinking against religion.
What’s Wrong With Religion by Skye Jethani- This book feels like a Christian response to Russell and concisely deals with many of the same issues.
4. Give yourself time to process all of this
It is important to unpack or deconstruct all of the things wrong with religion. This is a long, daunting, emotionally charged task. It crosses into family relationships, culture, our sense of belonging and identity, and virtually everything about us and how we relate to the world. I actually think that it is a life long endeavor.
During this process, I highly recommend that you read the book Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown. In the process of opening my eyes to how I had been controlled and shamed by religion, this book was a game-changer for me! It gave me permission to be true to myself and that has changed my world.
5. My journey includes recognizing that jesus frees us from religion
I’m aware that this is a highly charged triggering topic. I know that it may feel like manipulation that this is my final point. I honestly don’t want to be manipulative. I want to honor everyone’s journey and beliefs. This is my journey and these are my beliefs. (If I’m not honoring you or I’m coming across as manipulative, PLEASE let me know! I will re-evaluate…after wrestling with being salty and defensive…just saying)
I make no attempt to hide that I believe in Jesus. I am convinced that he stood against all of the things that suck about religion. In his ministry, he constantly confronted the religious elite and elevated the non-religious and the social outcasts.
He constantly told his followers that he was starting something new. Something so new and different that we can’t handle it without help. I believe Jesus demonstrated how to free ourselves from religion and make the world a better place through caring about people and desiring the very best life for everyone we encounter.
But that message seems to be barely discernible in the sea of religious culture surround the teachings of Jesus. For example, though Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek,… the merciful, …and the peace makers” (Matthew 5) and that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter God’s kingdom (Mark 10, Matthew 19) American church culture has religiously explained away these teachings in bizarre twisting which promotes the opposite.
6. Jesus taught the opposite of What Many American churches teach
What Jesus taught: What we often see in church culture
Poor in spirit** Arrogance about how correct one’s beliefs are
Mourning Always be happy or they doubt your faith
Merciful Condemnation of all who disagree with them
Peacemakers Bullying of people they disagree with
Condemned wealthy greed Wealth is a blessing for the faithful
And that’s just the beginning! The New Testament is full of stories of Jesus confronting religious hypocrisy and that’s what I love to write about.
So, if on your journey of deconstruction and then reconstruction, you’d like to read about a fellow rebel who hates religion. I think you will love the stories of Jesus (and my journey to distance myself from religion and just purely follow him.)
I’d love to connect with you and chat about your journey.
Embrace the adventure my friends! I’m cheering for you!
*So…I don’t know about the whole gender of God thing, cause uhm God is God and all. I’m pretty sure God just isn’t like us so…I’m just used to saying “him”. I think what is probably most accurate is never using a pronoun because God isn’t an us, him, he, she, or, it… but that makes my writing really awkward.
** The Greek word for poor means poverty at the level of begging. The phrase poor in spirit refers to realizing that you have nothing to offer God. I mean, if he created the universe, how arrogant do we have to be to think we are impressing him with our rule-keeping?