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Recovering From Christianity Can Make You Mad
Recovering From Christianity Can Make You Mad
by Tawnya Clark
Richard Dawkins was confronted by more born-again Christians at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia on October 23, 2006 than he would have been if he had gone to Sunday School the next day. I watched Book TV from my couch in Buffalo, NY. I applauded along with the RMWC students as the professor expertly handled each question that visiting Liberty University students threw his way.
Somehow, a RMWC student did manage to find a spot for herself among the born-again students at the microphone. She asked Professor Dawkins “Is anger a common symptom of a person who is going through the de-conditioning process of their parent’s religion?”
This seemed to be a new topic for the Professor, and he directed a general question towards the entire audience. “Is that a common experience?” he asked, referring to the emotion of anger.
There was a general murmur of assent and Professor Dawkins expressed interest in learning more about this emotion. He seemed surprised and curious at this new discovery.
I was rather surprised, myself, that the topic had not come up before in the multiple conversations I imagine he’s had with former religious folk. Anger and resentment are primary emotions I would assume all former born-again Christians feel towards their past and their former mentors. It is certainly so with myself.
As an atheist who used to be a born-again Christian, I find many things to be angry about.
I am angry that my esteem for myself was beaten down over and over again. My heart and mind were dark and sinful and I was to constantly try to allow God to mold me into his own image—whatever that was. Is it no wonder that my journals from 2nd grade on are filled with dark, suicidal thoughts? It angers me that reverence for myself was never an option.
I am angry at the waste of my talents and imagination as a young person. Rather than writing and drawing and reading with an open mind and a free imagination, I spent a gross amount of time trying to figure out how to live up to the expectations that I thought God, my parents, and my mentors had for me. I wrote often in notebooks and diaries. It is difficult for me to read my own words:
“I hope I don’t sound stupid, but when I read that Bible verse I start crying, because just this past week I kept thinking, ‘I’m slipping back again. It seems all I do is slip back and get lazy,’ and I feel so dumb because God’s love is so obvious in everything and I just can’t trust enough, it seems like.”
I was fourteen years old. I was consumed with becoming a woman of God.
I am angry at the waste of my physical talents. I was not allowed to play sports or do any other extra-curricular activities, because it interfered with Wednesday night church and I could not get home in time enough to be ready for Youth Group. I am angry at the church leaders, youth group workers, and pastors who brainwashed me. This anger is sometimes short-lived as I work through the probability that most of them have simply been brainwashed by their own mentors. It is sparked anew, however, when I sense their laziness in researching and truly understanding what it is that they have set up as the very foundation of their lives and the lives of their children.
Anger extends to friends and family whom I see compromise, constantly, their strict line of morals. A woman and I have been friends since the seventh grade. A few years ago she discovered her brother was gay. One day I inquired about his partner, but she put her finger to her lips and nodded toward her daughter in the back seat of my car. I was not to discuss this in front of her. Now, even as I write this, she and her children are spending a whole week with her brother and his partner in their apartment in New York, having a glorious time.
I am happy she has come to accept her brother’s homosexuality, but how did she come to this new awakening without becoming an atheist or at least an agnostic? Do I expect too much?
I am angry that she has compromised in this area, allowing her children to be around an ‘abomination’ (according to her beliefs and her God) without recognizing the hypocrisy that I so clearly see.
I am angry with her husband, whom I also grew up with. He does not attend church anymore, but allows his children to go every Sunday with their mother. I become angry imagining what those children could be going through.
I know what they will go through and so does their father.
They will be cornered, confronted—“Have you accepted Jesus yet? Why haven’t you been baptized? Do you have Jesus in your heart? Why didn’t you bring any friends with you today?”
They will be sat in front of a television and they will watch movies created with the sole purpose of making their viewers feel entirely responsible for the eternal salvation or damnation of any human being they come in contact with.
Those impressionable minds, those precious hearts will be made to feel sinful, guilty, unworthy and blamed. They will learn it is their fault Jesus suffered. There is so much waste, so much pain, and so many traumas.
I know that Professor Dawkins feels some of this anger when he recognizes the wasted potential of the thousands upon thousands of children cloistered away in these strict religious communities.
Now imagine how that anger is compounded when you wake up one day and realize the waste of your days, the waste of your imagination, the waste of your very own childhood and young adulthood. It has passed, it is gone, and the scars manifest themselves as a thick knot in my stomach and a sickening sense of loss.
Recovery is not as bad as one would think. After all, around every corner is something glorious. Every new thing learned is a treasure. Every song, every book that was banned is now something incredibly precious. Moving forward and looking forward—these are the keys to recovery.
I am slowly learning to curtail my anger towards the past, but what do I do with these new offenses? I live in a culture where I feel I have to tiptoe around believers. I feel it is as uncouth as belching to call a Christian out on their beliefs and hypocrisies. I am tired of biting my tongue.
I would challenge all atheists and agnostics to remember the offenses perpetrated on the children of the world by fundamentalist religion before biting their own tongues.Tawnya Clark graduated from the University of Iowa with a major in English and a minor in Religion, with a focus on Early Christianity Studies.
Appeared in Secular Nation—Vol 11, Number 4, pages 20-21. (Published April 2007)