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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How I learned empathy

I haven’t been posting much this year because it’s been hectic for me in my personal and professional life. But, my birthday is right around the corner and I often feel like my birthday is my New Year — I reflect on the previous year and how I’ve grown or stepped backward. One thing I’ve been thinking about is how much more empathetic I am since leaving conservative Christianity. Continue reading

Fear of the body stems from fear of death

I’ve been having some really good conversations lately with a friend of mine who grew up a devout Catholic and is now a functional atheist. He brought up a topic today that I haven’t thought about in a while – how the fear of the realities of the human body stem from a fear of death. I’ve blogged on the topic of “getting out of life alive” before, and this is an extension of it. I first started thinking about how negative reactions toward the profane stem from a fear of death when I read an essay posted on Experimental Theology a few years ago:

[…] many profanities appear to be associated with the psychology of disgust and contamination. Urine, feces, blood, and other bodily effluvia are routinely referenced in obscene speech as well as being reliable disgust elicitors. But the profanity/disgust link is incomplete as it fails to capture facets of religious cursing (e.g., damn, hell), references to sexual intercourse (e.g., the f-word), or references to body parts (e.g., breasts, genitalia).

[…] One facet of [Terror Management Theory] research has been to examine how various facets of everyday existence can become existentially problematic, particularly when functioning as death reminders. We are unsettled upon being reminded of our death and, thus, tend to repress or avoid aspects of life that make death salient. Much of this research has focused on how the body functions as a mortality reminder. The vulnerability of our bodies highlights the existential predicament that we will one day die and decay. Further, the gritty physicality of the body (e.g., blood, sweat, odors, waste) highlights our animal nature which functions as an existential affront to our aspirations of being transcendent spiritual creatures. Based upon these insights, an impressive body of empirical work has strongly linked body ambivalence to death concerns. Much of this research is summarized by Goldenberg, Pyszcynski, Greenberg, & Solomon (2000) who conclude: “[T]he body is a problem because it makes evident our similarity to other animals; this similarity is a threat because it reminds us that we are eventually going to die.”

We are so scared of the human body – farts, female body hair, menstrual blood, semen, pooping, etc, etc, etc. These things are not to be talked about in a respectable setting, they are, to quote George Carlin, “bad, dirty, filthy, foul, vile, vulgar, coarse, in poor taste, unseemly, street talk, gutter talk, locker room language, barracks talk, bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, indecent, profane, obscene…” Of course, they are also natural parts of human anatomy and physiology. These things remind us that we have mortal human bodies, and that reminds us of death.

Anyways, if you have the time, go and read the whole essay, it’s quite fascinating.

The narrow spectrum of (approved) moral thought in the Catholic Church

The recent comments made by Pope Francis on gay marriage and contraception have made their way around the news circuit:

“The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life,” Francis said.

[…] The pope also issued a strong defense of Pope Paul VI’s controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which upheld the Church’s traditional ban on birth control.

“He had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when many people were worried about population growth,” Francis said.

[…]

The comments also came less than a week after a speech to diplomats at the Vatican in which Francis criticized “legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole,” saying that such legislation had contributed to a widespread sense of the family as “disposable.”

On contraception and Paul VI, Francis said in a November 2014 interview with an Italian newspaper that his predecessor’s “genius was prophetic.”

“He had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake’ on the culture, to oppose [both] present and future neo-Malthusianism,” he said.

Continue reading

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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No, you’re not being persecuted

One aspect of conservative Christianity that initially got me questioning the whole program is the persecution complex. Someone or something is always out to get conservative Christians – (a few) public schools are out to get conservative Christians by giving children comprehensive sex education, gays are trying to destroy the Christian institution of marriage, TV shows are attacking us by portraying people living secular lives without all hell breaking loose, etc. During my time in conservative Christianity, I largely didn’t understand the big deal about comedians who poke fun at Christianity, or a public school not having prayer, or gays being protected from employment discrimination in a non-religious business. The way I saw it, we can do our thing, people of a different or no religion can do their thing, and neutral settings like public schools shouldn’t take a side one way or the other. But, I came to realize that the persecution narrative is a key component of the greater conservative Christian narrative. I’ll delve more into that as a whole in the future, but I want to address some recent events that have solidified my exit. Continue reading