I was raised in a pseudo Christian family cult. People hear a lot of different things when you say the word cult, but when I use it, I’m talking about Robert Lifton’s Eight Methods of Thought Reform. One of these days I’ll get to writing about what makes a cult, but on a basic level I’m talking about manipulation that changes the way people think in a negative way.
That’s what cults do. They rewire your brain.
In our family cult, my mother taught me and my sister to fear God and an omnipresent evil. She didn’t attend any church, but instead felt qualified to teach us about Christian living based upon her own interpretation of God and the bible. Growing up in an astoundingly strict and repressive environment was all I knew, and the main reason I never fully rebelled as a teenager or young adult was a combination of great fear and deep belief.
I genuinely believed in God, Jesus, and the bible with my whole heart, and I very much wanted to be a good person. A good Christian. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to hell. I wanted to change the world, and I believed the world needed Jesus. In all honesty, I dedicated my life to God as a young adult. I kept my prayer and quiet times. I studied The Word. Went on mission trips — the whole shebang.
From the time I was in grade school, I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to not be a Christian. To not believe in God. I looked around the world and saw a Creator’s hand in everything. As I grew older, my passion for art intertwined with my passion for Christ. My copy of Enter the Worship Circle was seriously dog-eared and highlighted all over the place on quotes like:
Life without worship is a three-legged dog.
So the truth is that losing my religion was a lengthy and painful process. It didn’t happen overnight, and it definitely didn’t happen without a fight. Often, people will read one of my stories about the way my experiences with the church shaped me and they’ll ask me to give God another chance.
I know they mean well. They just want me to believe in the real God they trust, right?
But I can’t help thinking wow, they have no idea just how many chances I’ve given God already. How many nights I’ve cried out for him to answer me and show me I’m not alone.
Basically, it was all of my crying out to God that led me to stop believing. The perfect description of my disappointment and disillusionment with Christianity and all of it is in the song You Found Me by The Fray.
Where were you
When everything was falling apart?
All my days
Spent by the telephone
That never rang
And all I needed was a call
That never came
From the corner of First and Amistad
This song isn’t actually about losing your religion, but it’s a pretty damn good analogy.
The last thing I ever expected was that I’d walk away from Jesus, the church, and all of it, but I was born into an extremely broken and manipulative system. And knowing how absolutely earnest I was about my faith in Christ, I couldn’t keep my sanity worshipping a God who allowed himself to be so misrepresented in the first place.
How is that not a dick move--to punish people for eternity? People who don’t understand who you are because you don’t set the record straight?
It’s not easy to talk about these feelings — let alone write about them. I spent my whole life hearing that people had no right to be angry at God and that atheists were evil. But here I am, agnostic and admitting that if God is real, he has a whole lot of explaining to do, and I am not impressed.
Because spiritual abuse and cults are a serious problem. Along with hypocrisy in the church and an honest-to-God evil. Prosperity teaching. Mega churches. Most Christian denominations have a brutal history of bloodshed. When I hear Martin Luther quotes, I wonder how so many people overlook the blood on his hands.
I’ve written before about my frustration with people in the church. Like don’t they realize what damage they do when they fail to act with love and instead resort to cruelty and judgement?
Right or wrong, there is a damage that cannot be undone when it comes to a person’s experience with God and the church. I am far from the only one who feels like Jesus doesn’t pick up the phone. Far from the only person who’s felt like they were never good enough and could never belong.
When I had my daughter in 2014, enough Christians treated me like dirt that I finally decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. I begged God for years to help me find a village. A tribe. True friends. And I put myself out there. I was honest about what I was looking for.
I was a single mom who was so sick of people helping me to make themselves look good. Who only wanted to help in ways that didn’t inconvenience then. When what really I needed was a friend who would spend some time with me.
I don’t mind admitting that the biggest reason I left God and the church was because I never felt the love. Instead, I went through years of spiritual abuse and when I finally said I couldn’t take it anymore and cried out for friendship — God never answered my call.
Sometimes I still feel guilty. Like I want to believe in a God that saves and is worth our worship, but I’m done wasting my time. And I’m not willing to put my daughter through the same crap.
So I won’t.
And I know that drives people crazy. They want me to know that God is good, right? All the time. I just haven’t given it my all. I haven’t REALLY ever trusted him, right?
That’s the easy answer. That lets people sleep at night.
All I can say is that I sleep better despite the occasional wish that I could buy into the hype again.