“First, there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God”
-Julian of Norwich
I write this to those who have left religious fundamentalism and are now dealing with hurt, anger, bitterness, and the confusion that follows. I write to all those who are struggling while trying to find their way now that their faith lay shattered and broken before them. Here’s to hoping this blog post helps a few on their journey towards healing.
Sometimes, before we become whole, and find who we truly are, we must first fall, and all that we have known to be true shatters into a million pieces like delicate glass. These pieces will never fit back together again, and to spend your time trying to fit these little shards back together will just leave you with bloodied hands. Instead of picking up the pieces, what is needed is a stronger foundation to build your life upon, and to become a vessel that won’t shatter so easily at the first hint of a strong wayward wind. You have to walk away and let go of all those broken pieces. Your new journey now requires patience, forgiveness, understanding, and compassion as your life starts to heal.
Leaving fundamentalism, especially when your life is so deeply rooted in this belief system, is psychologically traumatic. I believe that some people who have been firmly attached to a fundamentalist sect of religion may even deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) once they leave this belief system. We think we will never be whole again. We wander around in the darkness, alone with our confusion and anger, with no real purpose or meaning in life. We use to have it all figured out, we thought we were called by God to spread the gospel, and our lives had purpose and meaning. We had community and family, we felt like we belonged, and now we feel like we don’t fit in anywhere anymore. When you take away purpose and meaning from someone’s life, when you take away all their support systems, they are all but dead, for it seems like they have nothing left to hold onto. I know this path well, because this is what happened to me when I left Christian Evangelical fundamentalism.
My process of deconstruction began in 2009, as best as I can pinpoint it, and I left Evangelical fundamentalist Christianity for good, to never return, in 2011. From 2011 till about 2015 my life was a living hell. I had lost friends due to leaving the church and my heretical thinking and ideas. I was alone, having been ostracized from my tribe, and I was full of anger and hurt. I was bitter towards the church, towards my former pastor, and towards certain members of my church who had written me off as lost. I was upset with myself for being so gullible to have spent so many years in that environment believing the things I had believed. I felt like I had wasted years of my life on a lie.
My deconstruction was a long and painful process. When your God dies on you, and you don’t even know what truth is anymore, you start to lose all sense of direction. Your identity is stripped from you, and you no longer know who you are. As traumatic as this seems, for many, this is the beginning of true growth and self-discovery. As the process works itself out, if we are allowing it to work out, we become less rigid and more pliable, able to let go, and to live with a beginner’s mind. The world is no longer black and white, and life is complex, full of mystery and paradoxes. Where we once had all the answers, now we have none.
This brings me to the main point of this blog entry. There is a fall, and there is a recovery from the fall. There is the darkness, but there is still light to be entered into. I spent many years consumed by anger. For a long time I would look upon fundamentalists with disdain and contempt, wondering how they could be so naïve, bigoted, small minded, and hateful. The thing is, I use to be just like that, and not that long ago to be honest about it. It is amazing how quick I forget this. I thought I was doing right, and that I was following Christ. Looking back now, I do think that I was following Christ, for I was walking in all the light that I had at the time.
As I continued to grow I started to realize that people are just where they are on their path. There is peace to be found when you allow people to just be where they are and you be where you are. My years as a fundamentalist was all part of my journey and it helped to form me into who I am today. I have grown and I am learning to forgive myself, and forgive others who have hurt me. I also realize that I have hurt others with the way I handled things when I came out of fundamentalism. I was pretty much a vindictive ass about it all. I had yet to learn that mercy triumphs over judgment.
I no longer get angry towards the church, or towards my former pastor and former friends, or towards family members who are still wrapped up in fundamentalism. People’s religious beliefs, or their lack of belief, their political opinions, and what they think, do not offend me. I definitely disagree strongly with certain opinions and beliefs, but I am not consumed by it. Some beliefs and political ideologies do hurt, and marginalize, people, and to this, I am learning to speak truth to power from a place of love rather than from a place of bitterness and anger. I do not have burning desire to change people. I am no one’s savior, nor am I meant to be. I have made peace with my past, with my path, with myself, and with others in my life. I am learning to let go, which is a key ingredient for personal growth.
I am convinced that no one is purposely setting out to hurt others. It’s true, that rigid belief systems can do a fair amount of damage to people. Just ask the LGBT community who have been hurt by so many Christian fundamentalist churches. Ask others who grew up to believe different than their fundamentalist parents believe, and now there is division in their family, and in some extreme cases, they cannot even return home. I have heard too many stories of this happening, and it is a sad and painful fact that this happens within fundamentalist communities. It is tough when you are shunned from your own family, and former friends, shunned for being different, and shunned for changing the way you think and believe.
That said, I often think of Jesus as he hung on the cross and uttered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. This is the power of forgiveness on full display. For Jesus to say this on the cross shows how aware he was to the violence of humanity and from the darkness from which it was birthed from. He knew that the very people who murdered him were doing what they thought was right, and that their hearts were darkened. They acted out of ignorance and from a twisted mind, a mind twisted by fundamentalist religion that shows no mercy, compassion, or love, and serves a God that is just as cold, hard, demanding and judgmental. It is my belief that Jesus came to reveal a God who was the exact opposite of this, and he was murdered for it. It’s amazing now that people who call themselves a follower of Christ are now the new Pharisees proclaiming a vindictive God who is out to damn any who does not love and believe in him. All evil manifests out of darkness, and those who act out the worst of evils are in very dark places in their souls. We are all just people, trying to live this complex and hard life the best we can, and it would help for us to be a little more compassionate and merciful towards one another. Spend time practicing compassion, not just towards those who agree with you, but towards the ones who are contrary to you. That whole, “Love your enemy”, thing is part of our path for those of us who desire to be disciples of Christ.
I know that for many fundamentalism is a security blanket in a cold world. It helps people make sense of things, and gives them an identity and a way to cope with life. For me, finding a church and selling myself to that cause was what gave me purpose and stability in my otherwise dysfunctional life. It is where I was at in my thinking and understanding at the time, and one day it just didn’t fit me anymore. I had to move on. I am not saying I now see and know and understand better than them, actually it’s quite the opposite. I don’t know much of anything (I know nothing to be honest), and have zero certainty. As for God, and Christ, I have come back around to believing, it’s now faith and not certainty. I find comfort in my faith, but I also know that I may be wrong. I cannot prove any of it, but my prayer is that I may at least learn to show it through living from a place of love. My current life of faith sees through a different set of lens than my former faith. It is a new faith, that is still being built upon. There is now much more room for uncertainty, paradoxes, and tension in life. It also is an inclusive faith that calls for me to erase the dividing lines of, “us and them”, thinking.
I write all this to say, forgive yourself, for you knew not what you were doing when you were caught up in that old system, and forgive people, and work on being compassionate towards those who are still there in that old fundamentalist system. They know not what they do. I am not saying you can’t speak your truth, but you can do it from a place of love, and not from a place of hurt and vindictiveness. No one is going to change if you’re out to destroy another’s belief system and prove them wrong. They will just dig in all the more, and the war will never end, neither for you or for them. Love is what softens hearts and changes minds.
You did not waste your life if you spent years in a fundamentalist system. It was part of your journey, and when you learn to embrace your journey, you can continue onwards towards wholeness. That said, for as long as you stew in your anger, in your hurt and unforgivness, and as long as you allow the root of bitterness to coil itself around your mind, like a snake suffocating the life from you, you will never be free. In many ways, you are still a prisoner of that old belief system. Let go, and move on. Perhaps it’s time for some of you to do this? I am not saying it’s wrong for you to be angry, to grieve, to feel betrayed, for that is a natural part of the process, and there is a time and season for it. Just don’t allow that to be your stopping place on the journey. Don’t get stuck there.
We all can choose to stop at any point on our journey. For some, they will be a fundamentalist till they die, for others they will be an angry militant atheist with great vindictiveness towards the church for the rest of their lives. The vitriol I see from people, who claim a path of peace, towards Christianity amazes me at times. It just shows me that, regardless of one’s belief system, we all have the same human nature.
For those who choose a static position in life, there will be those who will move on, they will grow, and heal and become mystics (my terminology, you don’t have to call yourself a mystic) by embracing the mystery that is life and being. This is my prayer, hope, and wish for all of us; I pray that we can move on, and that we can grow and learn to let go, and learn to love. Learning to love and let go is the highest of callings in our life’s journey.