The Pain of Deconversion, Part IV – Establishing New Coping Skills

# 10

Coping skills – methods a person uses to deal with stressful situations.

 

As Christians, we learned divinely approved methods of coping with the stresses of life alternate to the techniques of “the world.” We tended to believe our coping techniques superior to those outside our faith in that they were prescribed by God. We perceived practices such as prayer, reading the Bible and fellowship with other believers were helpful. Maybe they gave us a sense of being cared for, counseled by a reliable authority and accepted by a community who “got it.” In retrospect, we can see the flaws – the confirmation bias we exercised in seeing evidence of what we believed (and ignoring evidence to the contrary), depending on something other than ourselves to determine our behavior (and thus not taking responsibility for it) and believing ourselves to be of the few earthlings on the “right” path (how egocentric is that?). Nevertheless, we depended on these practices for coping. As deconverts, they’re suddenly gone.

How often did we, as Christians, when faced with a distressing problem, run to prayer? We believed He was there for us, that He cared, that He had the answers. It was a coping skill. For me, there was often a sense that I had “laid my burdens” on His altar and a trust that He would guide my behavior or intervene in the situation to bring resolution. In so many instances, I perceived He did do those things. I was so convinced God would help me, I saw His faithfulness operating in the most trivial things. I even attributed my own problem-solving skills to His benevolently bestowed insight. At the time, it seemed as if all resolution came from God and much of it directly through prayer. So ingrained was this dependence on the practice of prayer that I have been tempted to turn to it, though I no longer believe in the biblical God to whom I once appealed.

In establishing new coping skills, it can be helpful to revisit the old ones and determine what needs we perceived they met. Consider the following example.

We humans are social animals. A sense of belonging is a legitimate necessity. Though belonging to a faith community specifically may have caused more detriment than it did benefit, it still addressed a basic, healthy need. In looking to establish new, healthier coping skills, we can see the value of social support and seek to establish relationships that satisfy that need for belonging, provide security that we’re not alone in our experiences and promote personal growth through looking at things from an alternate perspective… not to mention the benefits of shared affection.

Maybe your perspective can help me or someone else. What coping skills did you use as a Christian? What was the perceived benefit or for what need did you use them? Can you now see anything healthy about it or the need it represented? How do you fill that need now?

Creating a New Identity

#9

[SB – I hope you find that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Your format is so much better.]

 

Hate the judgment, not the judgers.                                                                                                                           We’re familiar with the Christian phrase, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” That we’re labeled “sinners” is somewhat offensive. There’s an essence of negative judgment, even in their attempt to be tolerant. However, I’ve noticed a similar trend among former Christians. It’s not uncommon to see terms thrown around like, Xtian, fundies and GAWD, apparent put downs of the Christians and faith we find abusive. My aim in this post is not to minimize the atrocities deconverts have suffered from the Christian faith, but to encourage deconverts not to replace the deficient identity we have escaped with a one that ties us to the old and inhibits our progress in recovery. I’m hoping you will see the connection as you read further.

A word of validation.                                                                                                                                                      Though I do not endorse disrespect of anyone, I’m not throwing any rocks, either. Sometimes deconversion is excruciating and anger is a normal step toward healing. Deconverts have suffered a ton of cruel brainwashing – feeling corrupt for having natural questions and doubts about their faith; experiencing rejection and criticism from church leaders, so-called friends and even family; and fearing themselves so deplorable to God they’re deserving of an eternity in the horrors of hell (I lack adequate words to describe the mental torture of that). It sometimes takes years to deprogram all the lies, so ingrained they become. Recovery is a process of going through the painful stages of loss, finding a new identity, purpose and new coping skills. Resentment is certainly understandable, even natural.

However, what is natural is not always healthy, productive or responsible.                                       Yes, responsible. If we carry a torch for the church, the faith, whatever – we’re looking back and not forward. I’m not talking of speaking out against the abuses of the church, the inaccuracies of the Bible or the absurd doctrines promoted. There is a way to assert one’s self with mutual respect. What I’m wanting to convey is that, regardless of what injustices we have suffered, ultimately each of us is responsible for our own well-being. If we tangle ourselves in petty arguments, condescension and mockery, have we moved from the stage of anger to recovery? Are we not still looking back? Do we dispense the type of judgment we’ve come to despise? Do we define ourselves by the pain we’ve suffered?

We are more than deconverts.                                                                                                                                                   At least, I am. I’m moving forward. I have a life, an identity and interests outside of my deconversion from Christianity. Yes, it was a big deal. I’m still dealing with the aftermath. However, I will not let it consume me or inhibit my current and future happiness, my wholeness anymore. My blog is about healing and moving forward. I invite others to join me. What have been the greatest challenges for you? What has helped you? How can we help each other heal and build our lives by our own design and values instead of having it molded for us into the image of an impossible standard? As we seek to recover, let us take the high road. Honor our truth. Honor our pain. And do it without getting stuck there, getting lost in it, making another dysfunctional identity of it. Let’s take responsibility for making recovery happen.

 

I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments.

Christian Bias – A Retrospective Look

# 8 bias

As a Christian, I loved to write apologetics. I was an avid student of the Bible and worked hard at making the pieces of faith fit together with my intellect. It would start with a question or argument plaguing my mind that challenged a biblical view of God or the Bible itself. Then I would immerse myself in the Scriptures until I was able to weave together verses and passages that, to my understanding, satisfactorily resolved my dissonance. I believed the interpretation I received was divine revelation, that God was talking to me through His Word and He was feeding me the Bread of Life that sustained my faith.

The longer I am deconverted from Christianity, the more I marvel at how much confirmation bias I exercised (being inclined to notice evidence for what you want to believe and ignoring evidence to the contrary). I also notice this bias in non-Christians who criticize the faith – those who have no experiential insight into what it’s like to perceive they are in intimate relationship with a personal God. It’s quite easy for each on both sides to completely miss the point of the other, having misconceptions about the others’ beliefs, motives and agenda. There is no frame of reference for comprehension of either side. Those of us who have been on both sides have some unique insight.

For some understanding of my sympathy for the Christian perspective, see my article, “Tolerance – A Former Christian’s Perspective (link at the top of my page). In this post, I will address the misconceptions I had as a Christian toward non-Christians and their views, then how I have come to view them as biased. I commonly see them operating in Christians as they seek to defend or promote their own views.

For the sake of this post’s length, I’ll only give one example of my bias as a Christian, that against the virtues of “nonbelievers.” As I said in the opening paragraph, the process would start with a troubling question or argument against the Christian perspective. In this case, I was troubled that good people would be eternally separated from God for their lack of acceptance of Him (I was more comfortable with using “eternal separation” rather than “hell” – I didn’t like to think about the fact that my God would be sending people there).

Now God and I had an open relationship that was not especially legalistic. No topic was off limits. My questions and feelings, regardless of how wrong they may have seemed, were never judged right or wrong. I could confess anything to Him with utmost authenticity believing there was nothing wrong with thoughts, feelings and questions in themselves, only how I responded to them. So I brought my problem to Him in prayer, confessing my honest discomfort that He would be sending “good people” to hell. I did this with faith in His love and pure justice (the confirmation bias I exercised to explain away His genocides, demanding requirements and harsh judgments as recorded in the Bible is another post). I did not demand explanations as I learned from Job. Nevertheless, I was free to ask.

What came to me was that humankind’s natural goodness was a residual reflection of God’s image still possessed after the fall. “…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”[1] Even so, I reasoned, all our righteousness is “as a filthy rag”[2] relative to God’s. I reasoned, believing I was being counseled by the Holy Spirit, that all truly righteous acts committed by humankind were only done by the animation of the indwelling Spirit of God.

I further rationalized that apparently righteous nonbelievers must be prideful and therefore rebellious against God. Prideful like the rich young ruler in Mark 10 whom Jesus told the commandments he must keep and who confessed that he had kept them from his youth. I saw, by perceived divine revelation, that the young man’s sin was not as much as his attachment to his money, but his pride in thinking his own righteousness was enough to save him. That, I concluded, was the guy’s problem. That was what was wrong with nonbelievers – thinking their goodness was good enough and their willful refusal to submit themselves to God’s authority.

My confirmation bias. I looked for evidence to confirm what I believed – that God was just. I believed I found it. People tend to rebel against divine authority. What great lengths I had to go to convince myself of that. I was ignorant of the character judgment I had made against nonbelievers in thinking them incapable of doing anything truly good. Only Spirit-filled believers had pure motives. Only they were capable. How nice for me.

Oh, to be free from the convictions that needed so much defense! What the hell is wrong with not wanting to submit one’s self to a divine authority in the first place? We do, after all, have free will. How the hell is it free if we are eternally tormented for using it in a way that displeases that benevolent giver of free gifts? It’s all a bunch of nonsense. Why I would even bother to take the perspective seriously anymore surprises even me.

There was a lot of other bias I was entertaining. Please, feel free to share in your comments.

[1] Romans 1:19

[2] Isaiah 64:6

The Pain of Deconversion, Part III: The Terrors of Hell

 

 

#6 pic of hell

For most of those who’ve been fully immersed in, then left the Christian faith, the process of deconversion is not over when he/she comes to believe the biblical God does not exist or that the Bible is not inerrantly true. There are residual effects of the deep programming of Christian doctrine – or brainwashing as some call it – that result in a great deal of distress for the deconvert, and that is to put it lightly. Not the least of these are the terrors of hell.

If the church’s teachings on the doctrines of hell are not disturbing enough, there are plenty of scriptures in the Bible for the scrupulous to refer that foretell the danger awaiting the unbelieving, the cowardly and the rebellious. For one who had long believed in the Bible as being the inerrant Word of God – regardless of how illogical one has come to believe the Bible is – these warnings sting and bite at the mind. It often goes something like this:

After a believer has resolved through logic, reason and experience that the biblical God does not exist, she then embarks the process of rebuilding her life – establishing a new identity, developing new coping skills and finding new meaning and purpose. However, biblical warnings of God’s wrath for the unbelieving tend to spring up from the ashes of the faith he left and raise questions of whether, in abandoning the God he once loved, he is destined now to be thrown… “into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[1] Thoughts like, “Oh, no – this is happening just like the Bible foretold it would in the end times when, if possible, even the elect will be deceived,” and biblical passages like the following come to mind.

“For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment that had been delivered to them.” [2] And “For if we deliberately keep on sinning [not believing in and following Christ, for example] after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury  of fire that will consume God’s enemies. Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”[3]

Terrifying indeed. The horror of fearing you are destined for eternal torment of the worst kind. It’s been well said: Hell is a place on Earth.

Actually, it’s a natural response to the programming. Spiritual experiences are moving, emotionally charged and impactful on the brain. The doctrines of hell are associated with the experiences, which go deeper than an intellectual level of acknowledging the problems with faith. They’re unconscious. It takes time… and reprogramming.

There are many great resources out there for the deconvert in looking critically at the Christian doctrine of hell. They’ve helped me a lot. I hope others will list some in the comments and I will too (as soon as I can relocate my favorites). For now I’d like to reference Amusing Nonsense’s “Never Good Enough” post. Something that has helped me is remembering what I went through in trying to maintain my faith and how the God I thought I knew didn’t do anything to assist me. I clung to Him to the end of my strength because grace was nowhere to be found. I had never, as a Christian, believed He would allow that to happen. As a result the existence of the biblical God is disproven for me. And so has been his hell.

[1] Matthew 13:42

[2] 2 Peter 2:21

[3] Hebrews 10:26-31

JOHN PAVLOVITZ has some good perspective at http://johnpavlovitz.com/2016/03/07/no-christian-we-dont-deserve-hell-and-we-probably-neednt-worry-about-it/.

Please share your thoughts.

‘Splain this.

Thank you to Peter who commented this on my post The Prolife God. Read my post for yourself and perhaps take the QUIZ. https://recoveringknowitall.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/the-pro-life-god/ -KIA

via Watch “God: Merciful? Maniac? Mass-Murderer?” on YouTube — The Recovering Know It All

And thank you, Kia, for posting it as well. Had to repost. It’s just too good.

“Perhaps in response to this you might want to explain how in any context threatening things like the violent death of children and babies, let alone men and women – how in ANY CONTEXT, this is congruent with love, mercy and perfect morality.” My favorite comment in the vid and in response to all that is presented prior.

Spirituality after Deconversion?

How does an agnostic respond to an outrageous text?  “OM?!”

Taking a break from normal programming. The Pain of Deconversion is a little taxing. Be back on it real soon. A new post is needed. Spirituality – ah, yes! Always so intriguing to me. I don’t know that I can call myself agnostic anymore. I have resolved that I believe in something more, at least for now. Who/what is/are he/she/it/they? I’m open.

Any former Christians out there discover a sense of spirituality that doesn’t offend your reason, mental health or sense of self-worth? It’s not so preposterous. Many healthy-minded and intelligent people have a type of spirituality. They’re just not overly fixated with it. I, Shawna the recovering scrupulous, vow to never become obsessed with the supernatural, paranormal or woo woo again… (Are you convinced?) BRING ON THE NEXT BIG ADVENTURE!!! Damn, that last one nearly killed me.