Christianity Made Me Fear the Contents of My Own Mind
Almost ten years ago, I wrote the following:
If you were to ask me once a day for seven consecutive days what I thought the single worst thing about Christianity was, you might get seven different answers.
This was true at various points in my life and seemed to be the case as I started to deconstruct Christianity. There were so many different things that struck me as problems with Christianity. Deciding which was the worst seemed impossible.
I haven’t felt like that for the past few years. During that time, I’ve known what the worst thing about Christianity was for me. It would be a specific fear Christianity instilled within me, a fear of my own mind.
Unpacking this isn’t easy. It requires a bit of context. The Protestant denomination in which I grew up was neither evangelical nor fundamentalist. In fact, I’d place it in the liberal-to-moderate sector of Christianity. And yet, it resulted in a particular fear, which I internalized at an early age.
There was only one path to salvation. It demanded belief rather than behavior. One didn’t escape hell through good acts alone. One needed to believe and be pure in faith.
I soon discovered two unpleasant truths about how my mind worked. First, I often had thoughts that did not seem voluntary or intentional. Thoughts and images would sometimes pop into my mind. I’d be in the midst of daydreaming, and a disturbing image might appear out of nowhere. I didn’t want it there, but there it was. I wasn’t in complete control of my thoughts at all times. It used to terrify me that some of these thoughts or images might wreck my chances of heaven.
Church strengthened this fear. As I neared adolescence, I had more thoughts that involved sexual content. This was not acceptable for good Christians. How was it that thoughts over which I had no control could send me to hell? How could I not find that terrifying?
The second unpleasant truth took me longer to discover. Belief itself did not seem 100% voluntary. I used to be a believing Christian. Once the doubts entered my mind, I couldn’t shut them off. I fought them off with everything I had for as long as I…