Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Rest was Hard to Explain...

Tell me a story about what you’ve lost It will help to pass the time I would commiserate but a saint I am not See in my eyes if I’d lie? --Seneca, “No Angel” It may come as a surprise to some of the people who regularly show up here at my tiny little corner of the interweb, but I really don’t like it when I do or say things that piss people off. I’m not afraid to do it if I feel it’s warranted, but I’m pretty sure that most of the time it hurts me more than it hurts anyone else. I also worry about fallout, that something I say in anger to one person will hurt another. That also means it’s all the more confusing that I take such childlike delight in what I call “poking the bear.” Sometimes I just like pushing buttons to see what will happen. Then I feel bad, especially when I get exactly the result I was expecting and the result I was expecting was on the low end of the human nature scale. When I started writing explicitly about my split with religion last April (I tend to put that stuff under the “Loco to Stay Sane” tag, should anyone feel the need to review) it was because I really didn’t have an outlet. I couldn’t talk about it with most of the people I knew. It seemed jerky to monopolize the time of the few people I could talk to about it with endless repetition. Besides, I’m a writer. I’ve always been a writer. I’d been talking about my times in and out of fundagelical Christianity over at Slacktivist for a while and everyone seemed to enjoy that, so I guess it just made sense to bring it over here. I’d also started to have this idea about creating a place where people who had also left an abusive religion behind could share. I was never entirely sure how to do that, though, so it remained permanently on the back burner. I learned something interesting. I wasn’t angry or bitter about my experiences. At least, not often. Some days I was mad at specific people or things who I realized were dangerous. Some days I wrote The Field Guide to North American Evangelists. Some days I was wistful. Some days I was even mournful. Mostly I learned that my problems weren’t god's fault at all. Either way, it was my space. It was where I felt I could share, but I also felt I was safe. It’s my internet home, I guess. Every once in a while someone came along and said, “Hey, I hear you. I’ve been there, too.” That made me feel better. Last summer I got visited by James. It was the first time I felt my internet home was invaded. I wasn’t in a good place at the time to begin with and extenuating circumstances meant I couldn’t just tell him to fuck off and die, which would have been my preferred response. Although his visit did lead directly to the Field Guide to North American Evangelists, so maybe it’s not all bad. And it’s certainly ironic. I mean, I’d been afraid of being challenged, but then the first time it truly happened all I saw was sophistry and arrogance. Someone who’d invaded my house had the audacity to call me his enemy just so he could make the point that Jesus said to love your enemies. Then he called me names and said I was childish for resenting his intrusion. All of this, of course, came in the service of presenting the love of Christ. It’s little wonder that when I wrote the Asshole for Jesus entry in the Field Guide I wanted to just call the category “James.” The events of last summer led directly to the unpleasantness of the last couple days. Truth be told, I don’t mind the occasional post by a Christian attempting to share god’s love. I get these occasionally and collectively refer to them as “evangiposters.” They show up, speak their piece*, and then wander off to do whatever it is that people do on the internet when they aren’t here and aren’t allowed to run Google searches for hard core lesbian fisting action (by the way, resist any and all urges to go and do that right now. Absolutely nothing good can come of it. Unless, I suppose, you’re in to that sort of thing). I don’t even delete them, which is my policy for adbots. I do, however, actively object to being directly and forcefully evangelized. Even if it’s ironic in that the evangelism comes in the comments of a post in which I’ve done everything short of saying, “Don’t bother, I’ve heard every argument you could possibly make already.” I honestly don’t know what the evangelizer expects to accomplish in a situation like that. It’s like wearing a Cubs hat in to a bar on the South Side, then acting offended when people make fun of you. Anyway, I have no real problems laying in to a would-be evangelist of the sort who would make it in to the Field Guide. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I like doing it, though. Especially here. It’s hard not to feel like I’m coming across as an asshole and ungracious host, even in situations where I’d genuinely prefer it if certain parties left my house and simply aren’t taking the hint that they’re being rude. I also know there are folks like hapax who I could well offend in the process. I am aware, too, that what’s going on might be opening fresh wounds for Woeful Budgie, jessa, Fiat Lex, and others. I mean, yeah, if you’re reading one of my more sarcastic posts I’m sure you know in general what you’re in for. But I’m also extremely aware of the fact that there’s a difference between the abstract and the concrete. And I know there’s a difference between an intentionally sarcastic, planned post and something said in the heat of the moment. Last summer when James decided to show up and then his wife started posting as an anonymous participant (I didn’t figure out until we were well in who I was dealing with there), I felt extremely alone and vulnerable. I actually had to turn off the email updates for a while because I just didn’t want to know when a new comment had been made. I was extremely angry, but I was also worried that James just wouldn’t go away. It was an unwelcome invasion of my space. And, yes, it is a public blog. But I have no idea what it is about the internet that creates this sense in people that they needn’t have any respect for the wishes of another. Especially in the case of someone who claims to follow Jesus. Not only would Jesus not be in favor of such shabby treatment of anyone, when he sent out the 12 and then the 72 to preach, he told them to go only where they were welcome. The command was to shake the dust off of their sandals at the edge of town if they weren’t welcomed. Nowhere did Jesus say, “If no one offers you shelter barge in, sit down on their couch, and accuse them of being rude.” I think that actual human decency is kind of a lost art amongst the types of Christian I used to call my brothers and sisters. We had a family emergency a month and a half ago (of which I’d rather not discuss the details, thanks). My parents’ church, which they’ve only been attending for a couple years, could not have been more wonderful. It seemed that every time we turned around someone from the church was checking in. I was talking to my parents’ deacon one day. He’d chosen them specifically because he used to go to the church I grew up in, so when he saw their name on the new member list he asked that they be put on whatever deacon list the church uses. I was talking to him at one point and he told me the reason he’d left the old church was because absolutely no one had lifted a finger or said a thing to help when he’d experienced a tragedy of his own. He told me he’d been bitter about that for a long time. That idea was a continuing theme of the entire time. That difference between the old church and the current church was that pronounced. And it was all the more noticeable since the old church would probably say the new church wasn’t attended by real, true Christians. They’re too liberal. They’re too focused on community service instead of evangelism and sending missionaries to Africa. I adopted a silly little phrase in the middle of everything. “I may not believe in god, but I sure as hell believe in Presbyterians.” They’re good people. I suspect that there’s a lot of selection bias in such things. Churches take on a specific character. If you want liturgy you go Episcopalian or Catholic. If you want dogma and damnation you go Baptist or Bible. I suspect that people who are interested in community service without forcing conversion down anyone’s throat, preaching about what they could be and not why they’re so horrible, and a sense that if they fall down someone will actually be there to pick them up gradually settle in to an orbit around a church like my parents’ like the chunks of ice and rock that form the rings of Saturn. And, honestly, it’s a beautiful thing to see. Jesus might be their common purpose, but I’m pretty sure that if they were a book discussion group with no concept of religion they’d do the same thing. Meanwhile, I still have nothing good to say about the church that I (and jessa, for that matter) used to attend (and which I’m pretty sure that another recent commenter who shall remain nameless currently attends). That type of religion has absolutely nothing to offer me anymore. I doubt it ever did, unless you consider pain a perk. I digress, however. The point of this all was to say, “Thank you,” to everyone. It was nice not feeling alone in my little internet home the last couple days. And it was good to hear that in spite of claims to the contrary, I wasn’t the one who was being out of line. And if I may presume to offer some encouragement to Fiat Lex, Temaskian (hi, by the way. Thanks for joining us), Woeful Budgie, jessa, and anyone else who finds themselves in need of such things: don’t give up the ship. To quote the Lovehammers, “Once you’ve got the taste, just a little taste of freedom, you can’t go back to living in your head.” It might seem easier to just drink the Kool-Aid, go back, suck it up and gut it out. But you’ll only drive yourself insane. I mean, think of how hard it was to deal with the doublethink and turn off the doubts before. I imagine it’d be impossible once you’ve hit the point where you realize, “Hey, I don’t have to buy in to this anymore.” Believe me, I’ve considered it. I know I can’t do it. At the very least, I’m sure there’s more than one church like my parents’ out there. I know that if I ever intentionally darken the door of another church in the future it will be one like that. --------------------------------------- *I have run in to people who write, “Speak my peace,” lately. I actually wrote that, then changed it. I can’t “speak my peace.” That’s nonsensical and bad English.


jessa said...

Part of why mental health care (mhc) comes up for me so often when I come here is because they have been twisted up for me. At Bible school, there were a lot of supposed mhc professionals who told me that if Jesus wasn't solving my problems, it was because I was possessed by the devil. But another reason why mental health care comes up so much is that the frustration of deciding not to be brainwashed is pretty much similar. In conversation with Evangelicals, no matter what we say, if we don't agree it is because Satan has blinded us or because we are not "real Christians" or some such nonsense. In mhc, if I refuse to believe that looking in a mirror and saying "I'm super awesome!" will cure my depression, it is because I'm crazy.

I actually find the frustration expressed here comforting. Yes, I discuss the mhc frustrations in other places with people who are also frustrated with mhc. But when I come here, I can be a little more confident in my frustrations with mhc because I see the same frustrating things happening, which confirms that in my mhc gripes, I'm not just crazy. If non-crazy people see the same things frustrating things in Evangelicalism as I see, than I can be more confident that I am not just a conspiracy theorist in that, so I'm probably not a conspiracy theorist in my frustration with mhc either.

It is also comforting to see the frustrations that are expressed here because they parallel my mhc frustrations so well. There are people who I can discuss my mhc frustration with, but most people who are frustrated with mhc seem to be frustrated with the more overtly horrible aspects: ECT, involuntary treatment, abuse. I certainly don't like those things, but they aren't what I focus on in my mhc efforts because they seem so obvious; I would hope no one would argue that the abuse of mental patients isn't a problem. I focus on more subtle things, the stereotypes of patients, the hypocrisy, the indefensible absolutism. This overt problems vs. subtle problems seems to similar to where you place your focus in your complaints about Evangelicalism. It would be too easy to complain about pastors who turn out to be serial rapists or the Crusades. You might mention them, but you focus more on the subtle stuff.

In sum, I thoroughly appreciate reading what you've written here. It's also nice to have someone else to look that our old church's lit tower thing and think of it as a monument of shame rather than something that will spread the light of Christ.

Also, liberal Quakers are pretty awesome. That's where I've been spending Sunday mornings lately. Many of them are Christian, but Christianity is not even a requirement.

Dave said...

It is my first time commenting here and my writing and grammar is probably subpar so indulge me. I think what you have to understand about the mindset you are describing is that it is most effectively viewed as a memetic virus. The mindset that any disagreement comes from Satan (almost wrote Santa which would have been only slightly less appropriate plus made me think of the awesome santabot from Futurama) and any inability to perceive or question this is a MHC or demonic possesion is so obviously an absurd defense of an untenable belief system that when you are surronded by it I would imagine it becomes almost believable by virtue of its acceptance by others.

It's unthinking unflinching certainty is maddening and seductive. Its something that seems common in belief systems that sound pretty but don't have any real backing; see the Freudians where any questioning of Freudianism was presented as an issue of the questioner and not possibly a legitimate failing of the system. And I have no idea if that was coherent. I

PersonalFailure said...

It's like a form of Stockholm Syndrome mixed with Battered Wife Syndrome: you're supposed to love the abuse/abuser and you totally deserve it anyway.

It's very strange and disturbing (for me, in a really personal way) to see people embracing as salvation, as the way, the truth and the light, what I embraced for far too long: the idea that being abused was love, that I deserved it, and if I left, well then I'm the loser. If I just tried a little harder and learned to think and feel and act just perfectly right, I'd be happy.

It took me way too long to learn that gritting your teeth and thinking of England, and apologizing, over and over and over, for trivial matters is neither love nor happiness.

Being an atheist, I cannot pray, but I can hope for everyone who hasn't figured that out yet.

jessa said...

And there's that nasty insinuation that if you don't believe now, you never REALLY believed. But at the time, no one ever would have doubted that I really believed all those Evangelical things. But I also happened to believe that the bigger my body was, the more outgoing and extroverted I was required to be. Which is obviously insane. If I tell them that now though, they would probably say that the fact that I believed that obviously insane thing is evidence that my belief in Evangelical things wasn't genuine, that both of these beliefs were borne of insanity. But at the time, when I believed both, that was never the case; my belief in Evangelicalism was supposedly real because it was "true" but the body size = extroversion was okay to recognize as crazy. Is it not indicative that Evangelical beliefs are crazy since they went away, with the crazy beliefs, once I became uncrazy? That sounds like proof, almost like the exact sort of situation you would want to study in order to find out if Evangelical beliefs are crazy or not.

And I did have a bit of the battered woman thing going on. Not that I was battered at all, but because I was highly invested in believing that I was scum and Evangelicalism played a role as a convenient justification for my belief that I was scum. It played that role perfectly, but I'll bet current Evangelicals would be horrified at that and say something like that I was with a bad group, an overly legalistic group, that REAL Evangelicalism couldn't, wouldn't fit that role.

Fiat Lex said...

It isn't any fun to be the bad guy. Sometimes a person is going to assume a priori that you intend to earn their enmity simply because you disagree with them. And it hurts, even if they are people you only know through the internet, or just knew to say hi to in the past. No matter how you try to tell them "I'm not trying to attack you, just oppose certain ideas you value!" they won't believe you. If you try to explain to them why they can't afford to believe you, they also won't believe that. Can't. Because acknowledging the psychological machinery that enforces conformity weakens its function. And that machinery, aka "God's will", is to be valued above loyalty and friendship and love and life itself.

So unfortunately there's no way to question the thinking of a particular person or group without actually offending anyone who subscribes to that thinking. It's an impossible task.

I can't tell my sister, my mom, my aunts, "Look, I know you're trying to help and your conscious intentions are good. But I don't think the Jesus you're trying to give me is the real Jesus." Especially given my lack of general participation in family affairs over the past, oh, decade or so. Long-lost emotionally disturbed cousins don't get to show up at family gatherings and say, "Hey, folks, everything you believe in is lies and distortions" without making a whole mess of enemies.

However, I get to come to Accidental Historian and see other people who are in essentially the same impossible position as me try to get a handle on the situation. It's like a think tank / support group for ex-religionists. Makes me feel like maybe I'm not some crazy idiot who's secretly filled with hate and rage, even though what I feel on the subject is mostly hurt and fear.

So don't worry about offending me, Geds. At the moment my wounds are already open, and not because of you. You just come along every so often with bandages and antibiotic ointments so they're less likely to fester!

As a side note. On mental health care issues, I also like to follow Against Biblical Counseling. His main focus is Mercy Ministries, but he also talks about general stuff with mental health, its place in society, issues with the evangelical community etc. Jessa, you are also a good read on the mhc front, and I enjoy your postings! And PF, to me your blog is the Colbert Report to Geds's Daily Show. Always a day-brightener.

hapax said...

Geds, please don't worry about "offending" me. If I were likely to be insulted by anything you said here, I would never have wandered over from Slacktivist -- you've never made any secret of your opinions there.

Besides, I worship the God who chose to enter human life as the Word -- how can I not be delighted by someone who holds words in such reverence?

I hope I do not inadvertently cause any of your other visitors pain by my comments here -- if anyone does feel that the presence of an unrepentent theist makes this a less "safe place", please speak up, and I shall cease to visit the comments (but not the blog -- there isn't enough good writing on the 'net not to appreciate it when it appears)

Fiat Lex said...

Hapax, you are cool. Have no worries on my account. Being a theist is no threat in my book. Being a meanie is, and you are definitely not one.

The Woeful Budgie said...

Dude, no worries about the fresh wounds. Whatever the Kens or the Jameses may do or say, when you call them on their BS, it's actually therapeutic, in a vicarious sort of way. It reminds me I'm not crazy, and that the deprogramming is working.

Even if it’s ironic in that the evangelism comes in the comments of a post in which I’ve done everything short of saying, “Don’t bother, I’ve heard every argument you could possibly make already.” I honestly don’t know what the evangelizer expects to accomplish in a situation like that. I have a theory, because he seemed intelligent enough that I couldn't imagine how his reading comprehension could be so poor. I wonder if his heavy-duty apologetics weren't necessarily for your benefit---you being a lost cause and all---but to engage you in debate for the benefit of anyone who might come along read this post. If he's anything like I was, he probably feels a strong obligation to offer a witness, especially since he seems to view the simple act of telling your story as a discredit to Jesus Christ. (You know, since we're all locked in a grand cosmic battle for people's hearts and minds, and there's no neutral ground.) If so, it seems his strategy was twofold: first, drop the evangibomb as heavily as possible, hoping that anyone who happened along might be either convinced or convicted.* Secondly, discredit you by making you out to be the bad guy. Misrepresent your arguments, attack your tone, accuse you of diversionary tactics when you won't play by his rules. Oh, and claim persecution when everybody else chimes in to your defense. My heart. It bleeds.

Anyway, I'm not sure if that was Ken's intention, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.

Though after reading this, I wish I'd said something back when James was doing his thing. Since it was someone you knew in real life, it didn't seem appropriate to interfere. I mean, yeah, public blog and all, but...beh. Oh well. But yes. James was a douche. And Ken was a douche. And James' wife was just...perplexing. Concern trolls, all. You were not out of line. They were.

And, uh, no. There's no going back. There's slipping back into old habits, if I'm not careful, but I don't think I can ever re-believe the very specific things I've realized are crap, even if I do start talking to God again. If I ever find my way back to Christianity, it will not be the Christianity I left behind. (Ditto to jessa. Mad love for the Quakers.)

Fiat Lex: However, I get to come to Accidental Historian and see other people who are in essentially the same impossible position as me try to get a handle on the situation. It's like a think tank / support group for ex-religionists. Makes me feel like maybe I'm not some crazy idiot who's secretly filled with hate and rage, even though what I feel on the subject is mostly hurt and fear.Yes! That! Exactly that.

*In Charismaniac Land, we liked to tell ourselves that "God's word does not come back to him void", which was basically our way of comforting ourselves when we felt like our evangelism efforts were having no effect. You never knew what God was doing behind the scenes in someone's heart! It was a sneaky little way of gloating that made us all feel a little less impotent.

Geds said...

Oy with the comments already... :-)

Also, Dave, nice to have you. Vilkommen.


Your theory is probably more or less dead on. It's kind of amusing that his final drive-by post he thought PersonalFailure was the most fertile ground for a, "Hey, send me an email," comment. Then again, there's no way he could have known that I'd received an email from PF that very day with the subject line, "Ken is a big, giant asshole."

Anyway, I really don't get where this came from with Ken. Last summer when my buddy was in tremendous danger of having a wedding wherein the Best Man (me) killed the pastor (James. Yeah, James is actually a pastor. A horrible one, but a pastor. Don't go to his church, assuming he isn't still running it out of his living room), Ken was the level-headed one I went to and said, "Dude, James is a giant jackass. Make sure I don't kill him." He was like, "No problem, dude." I don't know why I decided to use "dude" there twice...

Oh, funny James story. He started the part of the ceremony where the pastor tries to one-up the couple getting married by talking for a half hour (that's part of a wedding ceremony, right?) with this tortured reading of a victory stele erected by some ancient Mesopotamian king (he just used the guy's name. That detail will be important in a moment). He was then like, "Does anybody know who King So-and-so is? Anybody?" at which point he turned and looked directly at me.

It was everything I could do not to say, "Oh, yeah, he was a Mesopotamian king. Sumerian, I believe." I simply cannot bring myself to drop to that level and use my friend's wedding as an excuse to squabble with a jackass who's trying to show me up when no one else in the room has any idea what happened. He was a petty, self-aggrandizing little troll in real life, too.

Oh, yeah, and I spent a whole bunch of the reception dancing with my buddy's cousin. She was going back to Colorado the following Monday, so I took her out to dinner on Sunday. I picked her up at my buddy's parents' house and James was hanging out there. It was slightly awkward in a deeply amusing way.

Ahh, good times.

Michael Mock said...

Wow. I just went back and read Ken's contribution, and... Wow.

Ken, if you read this: I don't know who you are. I don't know what you're like in real life. Geds seems to think that you're basically a good guy. But when you were posting here, you came across as an arrogant, contentious bastard. This is something you should work on, if for no other reason than the fact that it's doing your attempts at evangelism no good at all.

You might start by examining the differences between criticism/disagreement and anger/hatred/persecution. You seem to have some confusion there.

Geds, you're not being the bad guy. You're standing up for yourself; you're telling someone else when they're out of line. It's not the same thing, and it'll be a lot easier for you if you quit thinking of it as "being the bad guy".

...At least, it was for me.

Geds said...

Besides, I worship the God who chose to enter human life as the Word -- how can I not be delighted by someone who holds words in such reverence?By the way, that's just a lovely turn of phrase.

Michael Mock:

I appreciate the thoughts. That whole being the bad guy thing causes problems. It's kind of what I was trying to get at with the post I wrote last night on blaming myself for things that weren't actually my fault.

Michael Mock said...

Yeah. I get it - at least I think I do. For me, at least, it's a fundamental desire not to hurt other people, even (or especially) emotionally; even when they richly deserve it.

The thing is, sometimes people need to be told that what they're doing is not okay... and sometimes they won't listen until you've hurt their feelings. That sucks, but there it is.

(Actually, that particular bit of human nature forms the basis for one of my arguments that if Human Beings really were designed by some sort of supreme being, we're obviously still in Beta testing. As further support for this argument, I offer the experience of watching children teething. Hopefully the Grand Designer will work out the bugs before the final release of the product.)


Geds said...

Yup. I kind of want to send an email to that girlfriend from those many years ago and explain to her in exacting detail why I did not like hearing from her. I mean, it's sad. She's been married, divorced, and now lives in some weird fantasy world where I, of all people, am going to show up and give her meaning (or something).

But if I say anything she's just going to take that as I sign that I really do want her around. Not being the bad guy turns me in to a doormat in this case and I'd rather not still be hearing from her nine years from now.

I mean, I half suspect I will, since she's kind of nuts, but I'd rather not be able to look back and say, "Damn. This was my fault."

And, yeah, I'm totally with you on the Beta release thing. There are just so many things about the way the universe works that you can't get to the all-powerful, all-caring god of the fundamentalists from here. Sure, a limited god or an uncaring god is possible. But that brings up a whole host of new questions...