A price of leaving religion: shunning

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. ~ Matthew 18:15-17

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, but something has been weighing on me over the last year or so — shunning. This isn’t my most eloquent post, but I need to get it off my chest. Since I initially told some religious friends about doubting my faith a year and a half ago (as well as some details from my personal life), I have gradually lost a number of friends. As of today, I’d put that number at 8, based on who I’d define as a having been a friend (there’s easily another 8, at least, who were in my group of friends who want nothing to do with me, not to mention people I knew from church).

These people vary in degrees of (former) friendship, from close friends to “we go out together several times a year and talk about real things of substance when we see each other” type friends. They also vary in how long I’ve known them (1-10 years) and they vary in how much I had told them about my doubts (I only told two of them that I don’t believe in god at all anymore). And, they vary in the ways in which they shunned me from their lives. One, who was a close friend for about 4 or 5 years, continues to talk to me and is willing to hang out with me, but hasn’t discussed his personal life or asked me about mine and avoids any discussion of religion — our relationship went from a deep connection to talking about beer and workplace quirks. Another doesn’t respond to any of my attempts to get together. Another spottily responds, but always declines. Another told a mutual friend of his hesitation to continue being friends with me. And, another, in the most passive aggressive form possible, un-friended me on Facebook.

The amazing thing about every single case is this: no one, not one, nada, zip, zilch, attempted to talk to me about what I was thinking, feeling, or experiencing. Not one. The things I told them, varying person to person, were all unsolicited. Not one remotely tried to understand where I was coming from. Instead, they bolted from me. These are people I broke bread with as we shared intimate details of our lives and talked about substantive issues. And, all it took was me saying, “I’m not sure I believe in a god/Christianity/Catholicism/religion anymore,” to throw it all away. And, not one of them bothered to ask any questions as to why, although I’m sure each has their own narrative as to the cause(s) of my falling away.

I’ve talked to a number of non-fundamentalist/conservative Christian friends of mine and a few of them pointed out that many Christians feel personally attacked when you don’t ascribe to their religion — they feel like you are rejecting such a core part of their identity that you are, by extension, rejecting them as an individual. Which, I think is not just a Christian mindset, but a tribalist mindset in general. What I find ironic about this is that while I didn’t actually personally slight any of them, they in return slighted me for not being unquestioning in my support of their god.

Another thing I think may have played into their shunning of me is conservative Christianity’s tendency to punish anything they don’t approve of. It’s why they want to deny access to contraception, abortion, and sex education — they want to make sure that the odds of suffering consequences for any sex they don’t approve of is as high as possible. It’s why they want employers and merchants to be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation or religion. And, it’s why they shun ex-believers — they want to make sure that we suffer consequences for our unbelief (I’m assuming in the hopes that it will make us come around when we realize what kind of terrible life it is to not be a part of their tribe).

All of which to say, I am hurt. I’m hurt that my friends who I felt a close connection with as individual persons could so easily turn on me. I’m hurt that they didn’t have the most basic of decencies to say a word to me about it. I’m sad that the affiliations of a person mean more than their character. But, I also shouldn’t be surprised. Humans are a tribalistic bunch, even outside of religion. You’re either with the tribe or against the tribe. And, as much as I hoped my friends weren’t like the vast majority of the human race, realistically there was no chance that they’d all abandon their tribal instincts. But, I think, at the end of the day, it was a good learning experience for me. I will be more realistic in the future. And, it has made me more self-aware of my own tribalistic moments, which I hope in turn makes me a more accepting and understanding person.

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. ~ 2 John 1:10-11

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Sexual morality initiated, but did not cause, my unbelief

The other day I came across a book review Dan Savage wrote on Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus Really Love Me? There was one paragraph that really resonated with me:

Chu worries that gay people like Mr. Byers have been “pushed out of the church.” That’s not true for all of us. My father was a Catholic deacon, my mother was a lay minister and I thought about becoming a priest. I was in church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. Now I spend my Sundays on my bike, on my snowboard or on my husband. I haven’t spent my post-Catholic decades in a sulk, wishing the church would come around on the issue of homosexuality so that I could start attending Mass again. I didn’t abandon my faith. I saw through it. The conflict between my faith and my sexuality set that process in motion, but the conclusions I reached at the end of that process — there are no gods, religion is man-made, faith can be a force for good or evil — improved my life. I’m grateful that my sexuality prompted me to think critically about faith. Pushed out? No. I walked out.

I loved this. The first area of my faith I dissented against was homosexuality. I’ve written about how I have LGBTQ people close to me in my life (here, here, and here), and I saw first hand how the homophobic positions of Catholicism (and other conservative forms of Christianity) negatively impacted their lives. It got to a point that I couldn’t in good conscience agree with my church’s approach to LGBTQ people. A couple years later, I realized that my church’s teachings on premarital sex and contraception had very real and very negative effects on my and my friends’ lives. So, I discarded those teachings as well.  Continue reading

Some thoughts on “The High Cost of Leaving Your Faith”

I came across a post on Patheos from Neil Carter titled, “The High Cost of Leaving Your Faith” that essentially discusses why the journey from faith is often long for those of us who lose belief. There are many similar themes to the ones I addressed in my previous post, “Leaving religion is harder than joining it.” I want to highlight a few parts that spoke to me:

If you read the brutally honest things I say you may find yourself asking “Why on earth did you cling to your faith so long after this?  How could you?  With no satisfying answers forthcoming?” The simple truth is that the cost of leaving my faith was too high for me to allow myself to go down that mental path. […]When your entire life is built around a religion, leaving it means leaving your life and starting over again from scratch.

I cannot overstate how powerful a deterrent this is to people who already have seen enough to know better than to remain in their faith.  They have enough information to critically analyze the beliefs they were taught, but they push the questions down, holding them under like trying to hold a beach ball under water.  It can take a lot out of you, but it must be done or else you could lose everything—your friends, your family, your job, your marriage, your kids…you name it.  There is no end to what people may take away from you to pressure you back into submission to their faith.  See, from their perspective, people’s eternal destinies are at stake here.  No punishment (excuse me, “discipline”) short of hellfire is too drastic to coerce you back into faith in (their) God.  It’s only because they love you that they will take everything from you in order to save your soul.  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” the Good Book says.

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Reflection: Is there an argument for God’s existence?

The other night I got into one of those internet “black holes” where you endlessly click from one link on a site to the next. Somewhere along the way, I came across this post from J. Cecil’s Progressive Catholic Reflections (a seemingly defunct blog) in which the author offers some defenses of the existence of God from well established philosophers with some commentary on the weaknesses of the arguments. It was brief, but still fascinating. One thing that caught my attention was the section from Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. I read this section of the Summa when I was exploring Catholicism, and I thought of it then as a pretty solid defense of the existence of God. Of course, I was coming at it from the assumption that God exists. Here’s the passage: Continue reading

Experiential religion in an ideological world

I want to start with two passages from the Christian scriptures; the first is from the Gospel of Matthew:

..the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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Getting out of life alive

If you want to know what it feels like to be under a power, it is exactly to be possessed by the desire to get out of life alive…

-Stanley Hauerwas

First, I will acknowledge that Hauerwas goes on to say that Christianity is the alternative to this subjection, which is basically the opposite of what I’m about to say. But, I like this quote, and it’s an idea that Hauerwas repeats often – that like modern approaches to medicine, American Christianity tries to offer “getting out of life alive,” which is of course impossible. None of us will get out of life alive, but we often do whatever we can to escape that reality. Continue reading

Leaving religion is harder than joining it

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

-T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I’ve been thinking about why I still go to church, why I still identify as Christian generally and Catholic specifically, why I still go to religious events here and there, and why I’m not out as non-believing/unaffiliated/agnostic to more than a handful of people…and why I haven’t really admitted it to myself. The first thing is that I’m not joining anything, I’m leaving something. We live in a dichotomous world where you join a “side” and identify with a label, and I’m not switching sides or changing labels, I’m losing them completely. If I was becoming an atheist, there’d be something to identify with. But, all I’m doing is seeking truth, to the best of my ability, wherever it may lie – so if a religion has something that, to my cognitive abilities, is true, then I will defend that aspect of that religion (and vice versa). I now understand how awkward it must be to come out as “not-straight” or “gender nonconforming.” Continue reading