Why I left Christianity

I did not leave Christianity because I went to an unhealthy church.  I left my church because of that.

I left Christianity because of intellectual reasons.

I began to read the Bible more critically and researched some of the cultural contexts.  Instead of assuming that the contradictions, misogyny, ethnocentrism, and horrible character flaws of god in the bible were only a result of my own limited mind, I allowed myself to see them.  As Mark Twain said, “The best cure for Christianity is the Bible.”

For months I read authors such as John Shelby Spong and Rosemary Radford Ruether.  I read Common Sense Atheism and De-conversion articles.  http://de-conversion.com/  http://commonsenseatheism.com/

I read them with great fear.  I wasn’t looking to deconvert.  They terrified me because they had shown it was possible to lose faith for reasons other than selfishness or immorality.

If I had not been in such an unhealthy church model, I may have left Christianity sooner since I would not have had the same level of distrust of my own reason and character. 

The emotional ties to obeying and not challenging the leaders were necessary to break so that I could think this through for myself.  (Note: the local church I went to had a fairly healthy community and I am still involved in it.)

I write about the emotional fallout instead of the intellectual reasons because:

1) Other people have done a better job of the latter than I would.

2) It was a much easier transition to learn to read the Bible differently than to deal with the emotional aspects of certain teachings I grew up with.  This is my therapy.

Many people are quick to blame deconversion on personal offense.  This is a nice little trick to disassociate themselves from the possibility of losing their faith also.

It is insulting to the person who has left.  It places the blames the loss of faith on a personal failing; saying one is merely confusing the actions of christians with Christ due to immaturity in dealing with offense.   This ignores the real argument against the teachings and mythologies built up around Jesus in the first place.

It is also a way of saying, “I’m not like you.”  “My church is superior to your church, therefore I am in no danger of losing my faith.”

20 thoughts on “Why I left Christianity

  1. Sherry says:

    Thanks for your words. It is odd, but all very human I think that I too began some many years ago to really study the Bible. I too read Spong, Reuther, Crossan, and a host of liberation and feminist scholars. My faith was only inhanced by the activity, not your experience. We come to faith as a solitary event I believe, and we move along it individually. We are never authentic until we realize that what we think matters. Not what others inform us is truth, but what we find in the dark hours of the night ourselves. A journey has may fits and starts. As you probe ever deeper, perhaps you will find Christianity still holds your heart. Perhaps you will find meaning somewhere else. God is probably pretty happy either way.

    • prairienymph says:

      God. I cannot find ‘god’ and am convinced we have the whole idea wrong. I know that Augustine (Or was it Aquinas?) says that if you understand, what you have understood was not God. It appears that what he ultimately worshipped was mystery itself and called it God.
      That word god has been ruined for me. Mystery, sure. That exists. But a being who is all powerful and all good and chooses to inflict eternal punishment on beings deliberately made to fail? Too many contradictions.

      I am not saying I’ll never go back to Christianity but it would have to be a version along the lines of the Catholic mystics, Gretta Vosper, or even the Sufi version of Islam. Something where I do not have to go along with a concept of god that needs large cognitive dissonance.

      I’m glad that you have found what matters to you in the dark hours of night. 🙂

      • theo(il)logical says:

        1) Probably Aquinas.

        2) Following Paul Tillich (a Christian existentialist, if there ever was an oxymoron), perhaps god isn’t a being at all, but rather the ground of Being itself.

        3) Do you really think mysticism is way around the B.S. of “mainstream” religion and “fundamentalism”? Why?

      • prairienymph says:

        1) Thanks.

        2) I’ve been meaning to read Tillich.

        3) Yes. On the street, religion (but mostly fundamentalism) has come to mean strict adherance to an ideology or tradition. Spirituality refers more to a thirst for the metaphysical. Sometimes the two are combined, sometimes not.
        At least there is room for questioning and doubt.

      • theo(il)logical says:

        1) Maybe I’m wrong. But you’re welcome anyway.

        2) *The Courage to Be* is probably of interest to you and a good place to begin: http://www.amazon.com/Courage-Be-Paul-Tillich/dp/0300084714

        3) So to further complicate things: Is there also a difference between “religion” (particularly of the Christian variety) and “a personal relationship with Jesus”?

      • prairienymph says:

        3) I think it is mixed. A personal relationship with Jesus can be both ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ (based on the common usage as opposed to more original meanings). I think it depends on the person and their picture of Jesus.
        I used to tell the kids in Elementary school that I didn’t have a crush on anyone but Jesus. Of course, a big motivation for this was not trusting my classmates. But I really tried to make Jesus my confidante. My journal is filled with cries to Jesus begging for forgiveness, wisdom, and attempts at the praise that the Bible was so clear was required. I was following the script religiously. The closest thing I had to a ‘personal relationship’ was with the ‘holy spirit’.
        This article is an interesting take on the personal relationship.

      • PNL says:

        “So to further complicate things: Is there also a difference between “religion” (particularly of the Christian variety) and “a personal relationship with Jesus”?”

        Some “born again” will have a stronger religious (as defined above) bent than others. Depends on the individual person and group.

      • theo(il)logical says:

        I don’t buy that there is a difference between being “religious” and having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” I don’t think one is doing anything qualitatively different from the other? Sure, those claiming a personal relationship may place less emphasis on the smells and bells rituals of a more so-called religious devotee; and perhaps those who claim to be Jesus’ personal friend (JPF) “pray from their heart” more often than following wrote prayers; and JPFs may also do devotions or, as some of my friends back in high school preferred to call it, “quiet time” with Jesus Chirst (JC). However, I’d argue that what is really going on here is that one set of rituals is being exchanged for another set of rituals; and one set of rules is being exchanged for an other set of rules. Those rituals used by JPFs may not be recognized as such, but they certainly do have a formulaic quality (i.e., Ever notice how often evangelicals say “Oh Jesus” when they’re talking to the dude-in-heaven, yet never use your name so damn much when talking to you or anyone else in a normal conversation? Why do evangelicals so often whisper their prayers in breathy tones when praying for each other, but never seem to use that tone in any other situation in their life except for when they’re trying to be creepy? Why if PLFs have such a spontaneous relationship with JC, do they do the same thing Sunday after Sunday in church with JC AND feel the need to write it down in a church bulletin. etc.). Moreover, whatever JPFs do in their personal time with JC, it almost always (either explicitly or implicitly) is later scrutinized/regulated by others of JPFs in “sharing times” or exchanging new techniques for cultivating feelings of intimacy with a tangibly absent God).

        I think evangelicals who say things like “I’m not religious, but I do have a personal relationship with Jesus” are playing a game of words. It’s semantics. In fiddling with labels, they’re trying to disassociate what they do from what other people do. And as you can guess, I think they do a pretty poor job of doing it. My point is (to quote a little Shakespeare) that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

        [Re: your link about having a crush on JC: And then there are the anxieties hormonal, horny, sexually repressed teenagers sometimes have when they decide that Jesus is the lover of their soul. I prefer to think that most teens just embarrassingly laughed this off. I was telling my partner the other day before I read your post about how I would snicker whenever I sang “O come! O come, Emmanuel!” in high-school at Christmas. Juvenial, I know.]

        As you may have guessed, my original intention was to challenge you to think a little more critically about attempts to distinguish between persons who claim to be “spiritual” as opposed to “religious.” My question again, then, is: Is there really a difference between being “spiritual” or “mystical” or “religious?” Though “spiritual” persons may do certain things differently, isn’t “spirituality” just “religion” by another name? Aren’t they just different “superstitions”? Or more to the point, aren’t they just different superstitions that exercise power over people in different ways? I think so.

        Leaving aside “spirituality” and those claiming to have a “personal relationship with JC”, let me go back to mysticism or where this conversation all started from. When I look at so-called mystics and mystical movements through out history, I’m not so sure they were ever better off. Women certainly were rarely better off. In Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), women were never allowed to read the Zohar; only men of a certain elderly age were allowed to read it. In gnostic Christianity, a feminine principle (e.g. Sophia) was highly regarded but even Jesus in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas tells his disciples that Mary Mags will have to become a man in order to become enlightened. Female Sufi saints also commonly had to dress as men to pass off their religious authority and experience as legitimate.

        Some people think of so-called Eastern Religions as being more mystical than so-called Western Religions (NB. I do not subscribe by this division of religion traditions between East and West, and nor do I think so-called Eastern religious tradtions are more mystical or spiritually attuned, or superstitious, etc. than Western ones). However, this supposed greater level of mysticism has not always translated into a better position for women. In Mahayana Buddhist texts the Buddha is said to have remarked that women will have to be reborn men before being able to attain nirvana. The practice of satī in Hinduism is deplorable. etc.

      • prairienymph says:

        Yeah. That is what I used to think too.
        And yes, there is a religious aspect to it, with some people more than others.
        I wanted it to be just a religion because then it could be more easily dismissed. But the more I talk to people and listen to them, the more I realize that there is another dimension to this.
        Things are not so black and white.

      • prairienymph says:

        First of all, I don’t think mysticism has the magical answer. Mystics in the past have been just as or more dogmatic than other religious people, and I believe that many of them had mental illness.

        You are right, for many people, their personal relationship with Jesus is very religious. That ‘relationship’ I can dismiss quite easily as another set of rules or an imaginary crutch.

        However much I would love to do that for everyone, I know people who have a very different manner of relating to God/dess/Universe/Jesus/light and I do not feel I have the right to tell them they are completely deluded. They may be connected to something (or even themselves) in a way I am just not familiar with. I do not want to rule them out just because I don’t understand them.

        The part of mysticism that appeals to me is simply to acknowledge that paranormal events happen without needing a tidy explanation. I would love to dismiss all ‘miraculous’ events that I do not understand. But, I can’t. When I say spiritual as opposed to religious, I am referring to openness to the unseen and unexplained. I hope that physics can one day find a theory of why some people can foretell the future, but until then I won’t deny that these people exist.

        I see people who deny that paranormal events can occur on the same level as people who claim that angels and demons are responsible for those things they don’t understand. There needs to be a place in the middle where we can look at something critically and if we still can’t find an explanation to be free to say “something happened and I don’t know how.”

        PS: Did you sing “Angels Prostate’s Fall”?

      • prairienymph says:

        For another discussion on the same topic, you may find this interesting

      • theo(il)logical says:

        As I read you response I couldn’t help but notice a couple curious things you wrote. I don’t want to “call you out” on these so much as challenge you to approach this conversation about differentiating between “spirituality” and “religion” radically differently. While I point out two things in particular that caught my attention, what I really want to address and challenge (and get to at the end here) are the definitions of spirituality and religion that you are working with.

        The first interesting thing I noticed in your response is a kind of contradiction between your belief that many mystics in the past were just plagued by mental illness and your persistent trust in mysticism. I’m curious: How do you differentiate between a supposed mystic acting or speaking as a religious actor versus as a “spiritual” person versus as a complete nut case? And why do you feel the need to write off past mystics as mentally ill? How can you be so sure that modern mystics or your friend who claim be “spiritual but not religious” are not also deluded?

        The second interesting comment you make relates to the first; it really is an extension of the same kind of reasoning. That second comment is your claim to being able to determine whether certain Christians’ claiming to have a “relationship” with Jesus have an authentic spiritual experience versus those who are relying on the “imaginary crutch” of religion. How can you assess the qualitative difference between one claim to a personal relationship to Jesus versus an other? Isn’t it rather convenient for you to discount someone else’s claim to having a kind of spiritual experience that no one else has access to? Without being able to assess the authenticity of someone’s claim to having a spiritual experience, how is policing the boundaries of what is genuinely spiritual not also a claim to having a grasp on the Truth or access to God or the universe or one’s interior light or whatever else?

        Whatever your responses to my critique, I’m not going to get into the specifics of these three points any further here. Indeed, I think we’ll just “spin our wheels” going back and forth on these points. It’s not that the above discussion is irrelevant or off topic, but rather that the above is really beside the point — that is, it doesn’t get to the hear of the matter but moves around it. What I want to do instead is centre in on much larger assumptions you are working with and that structure you approach to thinking about these issues. I want to show you that the difference between spirituality and religiosity is not what you (and many others) claim it to be. As such, read the questions I pose to you above as priming you to think in a radically different way.

        Your definition of “spirituality” and “religion” are something as follows. The link you forwarded me is a prime example of these kind of definitions being used at a popular level:
        • Spirituality is the product of direct experience of some metaphysical reality (or in the very least it is an openness to such an experience). As such, spirituality is a kind of universal experience, transcending culture, gender, and even religious affiliation/identity.
        • Religion is the product of attempts to harness this raw spiritual experience. such attempts, however, always fails. Religion is spiritual experience entangled in (and therefore occluded by) culture, language, gender and sexual politics, etc.

        I want you to think a little more critically if you can really claim to know if anyone can make this distinction, and (going even further) if there really is in fact a raw, unmediated kind of spiritual experience (assuming, for the sake of discussion, that there may indeed be a metaphysical reality out there). I’m going to shut up now and point you toward a very competent and respected sociologist/anthropologist of religion who addresses what it means when people claim to being “spiritual not religious.” My intention in so doing is to get us out of the minor details bogging-down our own exchange and introduce a new voice or way of explaining things that I hope sticks with you better than my own articulation of the argument I’ve been putting forward. If nothing else, I encourage you to read the introduction or first 20 pages: http://books.google.ca/books?id=SwrXC08Hi8oC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+new+metaphysicals+courtney+bender&source=bl&ots=00SHvzcqgF&sig=UNttmUVB9JWU5Zk3SUODhoauHKA&hl=en&ei=dXkRTfLfN4r_nAe2y8j4DQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false I hope this helps you become more self-critical and reflexive as to your own position and attempt to make sense of things.

      • prairienymph says:

        Paragraph 2) I apologize if I came across as stating that I have the discernment to distinguish between the mentally ill and those who have had a transcendent experience. I believe it is highly likely that some mystics were mentally ill. I have had transcendent experiences of different types and also witnessed manic episodes of close relatives which mimicked what I had experienced and witnessed. I would love to pass all such experiences off as delusional and not have to think about them any more but I do not have that authority or intimate knowledge of others’ experiences.
        3) Again, I apologize if I came across that way. I meant to say that it is likely that what many people subjectively experience is a product of a diversity of reasons.

        I defined spirituality and religion as the popular culture around me uses them. I am not using the academic terminology. Religion I defined as strict adherence to an ideology which can be demonstrated in a football fan as readily as a devout church attender.

        Of course no one can make the distinction as an absolute authority.
        I read some of the book, but confess I am hungry and supper is smelling good and I am losing concentration. My husband is much more interested in the metaphysical than I. I am just fine-tuning my reaction to what I have experienced, what I know, and how various paradigms influence my interpretations of my experiences.

        Thank-you for your encouragement. We are working with different definitions and that is hindering our discussion.

      • theo(il)logical says:

        I encourage you to try reading the intro of the book I recommended earlier (your husband will certainly be interested it too). It may be a tough slog at times, but there is much in there that I think you and your husband will find illuminating. (Feel free to fire questions for clarification to me, if need be.)

        My intention in encouraging you to think differently here is not to give you new “academic” definitions of key terms. There is no academic definition or technical use of the term “spirituality” as distinct from that in popular usage. And the academic study of religion is less about trying describe what people’s religious claims are than how the category of religion changes and is re-defined by ordinary people through out history (http://religion.ua.edu/studyingreligion.html). The issue here is not, as you claim, that “we are working with different definitions and that is hindering our discussion.” The issue is that I’m pushing you to look under the surface of people’s claims that there is a difference between being spiritual and religious.

        Let me press the issue again. You wrote that “Religion as opposed to spirituality is “strict adherence to an ideology which can be demonstrated in a football fan as readily as a devout church attender.” I want to help you consider how spirituality (however people on the street use the term) is an ideology (just as you’ve describing it)! Courtney Bender, I believe, in her introduction to *The New Metaphysicals* is particularly helpful for making this point.

        My reason for pressing this issue is simple. You mentioned that you’re interested in “how various paradigms influence my interpretations of my experiences.” I’m trying to show you how the paradigm of “spirituality” is currently structuring your interpretation of your experiences and adding to them. More specifically, I’m trying to show you how the paradigm of “spirituality” is actually just another religious paradigm shaping your understanding of the world and does not stand over-and-above the religious mire you’re striving to get away from.

        Currently, you’ve gravitated toward “spirituality” to help you make sense of things. I wonder, however, if you’re not just exchanging one religious interpretation for an other (i.e., Latter Rain Christianity –> Universalist-Unitarianism –> I’m-just-a-spiritual-person –> Buddhism?) without actually gaining any really new perspective. In short, if may be so bold, I think that you think you’ve found a meta-discourse for understanding your religious history where there is none; you’ve only exchanged a particular Christian perspective of what constitutes ultimate truth for an other religious perspective of what constitutes ultimate truth.

        If you continue along this route you can change your religious identity until the cows come home, or until you find something (or just end up making it up yourself) that is mostly agreeable to your mood on a given day. I’m pushing you to set aside (for a moment) questions about what that ultimate truth is (maybe it is your church; maybe the Buddhists are right; maybe all religions have a piece of the puzzle so to speak; maybe it is found in each of ourselves . . . who knows?) and ask questions about how individuals’ or groups’ claims to ultimate truth are produced (that is, constructed) and reproduced (that is, made attractive to others in search of some ultimate meaning in their lives).

      • prairienymph says:

        I enjoyed the description in the book The New Metaphysicals of mystics as undersocialized religious adherents.

        Yes, when one is looking at religion as a social function it makes sense to see all forms of people trying to make sense of physical, emotional, and metaphysical perceptions as a religion that occurs in a culture.

        Fine. The author distanced herself (at least in the first 23 pages) from analyzing the content or beliefs that are promoted in a religion.

        I, as most humans, do wish for a social community where life can be shared and its seasons celebrated. It is convenient if that community comes along with a set of beliefs. This can function to provide group cohesion and help make decision-making easier.

        This does not take away from the fact that Christianity and most other religions are based on belief systems that cannot hold up to reason and are often damaging to people. The fact that people want an explanation for individual experiences that fits into their culture says little about the explanations themselves. One of the things which I attribute to ‘religious’ is the attempt to force those explanations onto the people around them despite evidence of their inappropriateness. Shutting down prison farms when there are so many good reasons to keep them going is an example of this in a political context.

        You said in a previous comment,

        Currently, you’ve gravitated toward “spirituality” to help you make sense of things. I wonder, however, if you’re not just exchanging one religious interpretation for an other (i.e., Latter Rain Christianity –> Universalist-Unitarianism –> I’m-just-a-spiritual-person –> Buddhism?) without actually gaining any really new perspective. In short, if may be so bold, I think that you think you’ve found a meta-discourse for understanding your religious history where there is none; you’ve only exchanged a particular Christian perspective of what constitutes ultimate truth for an other religious perspective of what constitutes ultimate truth.

        I sometimes wish I had found a meta-discourse to explain things! What I have gained is the realization that I will never find the ultimate truth (if such a thing exists). This won’t stop me from seeking the most reasonable explanation, even if at times the most I can say is “I do not know.”

        I sometimes do worry that my position now is no different than switching brands of religion. That is a fear of mine partially due to my distrust of my own discernment. A lovely legacy of my brand of Christianity is to believe that if I think something an authority figure has not specifically told me to think, then I am likely wrong.

        I do not think a person is trying to find meaning/truth/best explanations can be compared to a person willfully holding onto cognitive dissonance or ignorance in order to fit in to their social group or religion.

        If you continue along this route you can change your religious identity until the cows come home, or until you find something (or just end up making it up yourself) that is mostly agreeable to your mood on a given day.

        Are you being rhetorical and exaggerating to make a point, or is that how our journey actually appears to you?

      • theo(il)logical says:

        Of course, if you preferred I stop . . . just tell me to stop and I’ll go away.

  2. “If I had not been in such an unhealthy church model, I may have left Christianity sooner since I would not have had the same level of distrust of my own reason and character.”

    This is a very important and insightful point. Oppressive religions and/or churches inflict a form of emotional and intellectual abuse, teaching their members they cannot trust their own minds and thus must trust authority instead. Members have to overcome that obstacle before they can think critically about doctrines.

    • prairienymph says:

      I just read Tangled, Disney’s version of Rapunzel. In it, Rapunzel must overcome the training of Mother Gothel, who does care about the child but not more than her own interests, and learn to think for herself. It was a very appropriate metaphor for leaving the tower of evangelicalism.

  3. Quester says:

    Bravo. I, too, have been told what I now believe, what I don’t, and why, by a number of arrogant and ignorant sorts. It must make them feel better, or something.

    • prairienymph says:

      It is really troubling for the one close family member who knows to process. At first, I was just “deepening my faith” by asking questions. I’ve heard the argument of using intellect as a god instead of relying on faith, or that I am somehow more compassionate than herself therefore I don’t feel the need to rely on god so much…
      But it really frustrates me that Ravi Zach. or a F. on the Family speaker is the authority of why I left (taking offense) as opposed to anything I say.

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