Okay, so I didn’t actually get a t-shirt… but there were some good things I got out of my experience in Christianity.
This is part two of Why I loved and then left Christianity… again. If you haven’t read part one, go and read that then come back!
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I don’t believe we have to find positives in every experience.
Sometimes there aren’t any positives; no lesson to learn, no gratitude owed, no way to spin things to make them more palatable or “productive”.
There were many things about my experiences that had a negative effect on me:
- indoctrination leading to brainwashing
- suppression of my core values
- the shame and confusion of having my identity invalidated
- the sadness of being encouraged me to disconnect from those deemed “outsiders”
- the ever-present fear of being “evil” or “unworthy”
- having to drop anything I enjoyed, in favour of activities like bible study, services, consuming Christian media
- the intense pressure and emotional blackmail to try to convert others in order to “save” them
- …and much more.
I was lucky that none of my family were in the religion, so when I left, I didn’t have to worry about being shunned or pressured to return.
Nevertheless, although there were plenty of negatives about my experiences with Christianity, there are also some things I can identify as positives that have arisen from it.
That is not to say that I’m advocating “trying out” Christianity in order to experience these benefits. I don’t think being a Christian is necessary to learn these lessons. I’m simply sharing both sides of the experiences I’ve had. It helps me to remember these positive things, because it helps me to identify how I’ve grown as a person. Learning more about myself, the world, and how the two intersect, helps me to feel a sense of closure and moving on.
Please remember, these are just my experiences and my opinions based on those experiences. I do not claim to speak for anyone else except myself. It is 100% okay if you disagree with my opinions – I just ask that you remember to be kind and respectful if you choose to interact with this post. Thank you!
So what did I gain from this experience that I would consider a positive?
Closing the book
Even before I became interested in Christianity, one of my bookish bucket list goals was to read the bible in its entirety. It’s an intimidating tome, both in length and subject matter. I’ve tried to read the whole thing on several occasions, but I invariably gave up after a few books.
However, I found that when I was approaching the bible from a place of spiritual curiosity – seeking answers and comfort – rather than intellectual curiosity, I suddenly found myself more motivated and more committed to reading it all. So one positive aspect is that I completed a bucket list item.
Unfortunately, from a spiritual perspective, reading the bible had the opposite of the intended effect. I discovered how flawed it – and the whole religion, in my opinion – is. But this leads on to my next point.
Exploring the bible and Christianity in depth was “supposed to” affirm my faith, however, what it actually did was affirm my scepticism. I now had the whole context of the bible, along with real-life experience of living as a Christian and being part of a Christian community.
I could see the contradictions, the flawed logic, the hypocrisies, and the truth had become impossible to ignore or explain away by lack of understanding. I could then be secure in my understanding of Christianity and let go of the “what if I’m wrong” or “what if I just don’t understand that part” that kept me constantly worried about accidentally sinning or being sent to hell.
My natural spiritual beliefs align more with different aspects of Paganism and Humanism. I have previously explored practices from Wicca and Druidry that I found spiritually, mentally and emotionally beneficial. However, I had persistent underlying anxiety about the supposed “sinful” nature of these paths (according to the prevailing opinion within evangelical Christianity). I often felt guilty for finding comfort and meaning in an eclectic spiritual path.
Nevertheless, my deep-dive into Christianity taught me a great deal about the origins of anti-Pagan rhetoric within the church. This helped me to understand why and how these spiritualities are demonised, and also to feel confident that there is no more evidence for the Christian God than any other form of deity, spiritual entity, or universal force. I now feel much more secure in practising spirituality in ways that feel right to me, rather than following any dogmatic or arbitrary rules.
Gaining a greater understanding of Christianity and the bible through in-depth reading and studying gave me the knowledge-based capacity to challenge arguments made in bad faith (no pun intended). I had always doubted my own ability to understand the religion well enough to be able to protect myself from manipulation. Some examples of this are cherry-picked bible verses and sanitised accounts of biblical events.
Having immersed myself in a genuine attempt to engage with the bible and the faith from a spiritual perspective, I now feel able to recognise out-of-context soundbites disguised as “proof” or justification for things such as bigotry or claims to authority.
Moving away from bible study and looking at my experience within a Christian community, I have mixed feelings. I believe that the people with whom I interacted were genuine in their affection and support. Having said that, they were not immune from employing some of the classic indoctrination tactics – even if this was done subconsciously.
Examples include love-bombing, encouraging members to alter their identities/values/interests to match their own, encouraging members to be fully immersed in this one community (to the exclusion of others), the use of intellectually dishonest arguments even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and so on.
I don’t think anyone I encountered ever did these intentionally, but in my opinion, the culture within some evangelical Christian groups is one of fear; fear of going to hell oneself, fear of others going to hell, and fear of us both going to hell because I didn’t do enough to help them “see the light”.
I am glad that I am now able to recognise how easy it is to get swept up in this fear spiral and I hope that this experience will help me to identify and challenge these indoctrination tactics if I encounter them again elsewhere.
Fun, friends, and fervour
Finally, I think the best things I got out of my time in Christianity can be summed up as rediscovery. Some of the practices and rituals linked to Christian living include many of the things I actually love and had been lacking in my life:
- being part of a community
- reading, studying and learning new things just for fun
- finding ways to show kindness to others
I love that I rediscovered the joy that these things bring to my life. What’s more, now that joy has been reignited, I am continuing to focus on these activities, just in different settings and no longer linked to Christianity.
I am thankful that this experience has given me so much insight and so many positives that I can incorporate into my life – even if the way it happened was a bit strange!
I’d love to hear about your experiences in relation to this topic.
Perhaps you have previously left a religion converted to a different faith?
Is there anything about your religious background that you consider a positive, even after leaving?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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