The Emotional Effects of Divorcing God

divorce-decree

Evangelicals-turned-atheists are often accused by Christian zealots of being angry and/or bitter. The goal is to dismiss the intellectual reasons people deconvert, painting former Evangelicals as emotionally damaged goods. By doing this, Evangelicals are free to say things such as, you are just mad at God or my all-time favorite, someone hurt you. Of course, this argument works both ways. Few Christian converts convert solely for intellectual reasons. I have heard hundreds of salvation testimonies, and every one of them had an emotional component. In fact, for some testifiers, that’s all their testimony had. I’ve even seen deader-than-dead Calvinists get a bit emotional when talking about the wonders of being chosen by God from before the foundation of the world.

Many Evangelicals-turned-atheists were devoted, on-fire, committed followers of Jesus Christ. They were, in every way, the bride of Christ. These former Evangelicals loved Jesus, often daily spending time praying, reading and studying the Bible, and sharing their faith. Thoroughly committed to God’s Kingdom, they liberally gave their time and money to their churches. Some of them went further still, answering the call of God to be pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and teachers. When critics question my devotion, I find myself thinking, would anyone live the way I lived if they didn’t really believe what they were selling? Of course not.

For many Evangelicals-turned-atheists, Jesus had seeped into every fiber of their being. The words that flowed from their mouths spoke often of Jesus and the wonders of his grace. Married to Jesus, they only had eyes for him. Satan and the world would sometimes cause them to stray, but these followers of Jesus were quick to seek forgiveness, knowing that sin marred their relationship with God. Their motto was only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. Better to burn out than rust out for Jesus, they cried.

And yet, these followers of Jesus no longer believe. Instead of attempting to understand their stories, critics focus on their emotions. I have had hundreds of Christians tell me that I am angry, bitter, jaded, or hurt. For a long time, I refused to admit that emotions played a part in my deconversion. I wanted my decision to leave Christianity to be judged on an intellectual basis, not an emotional one. Through counseling, I was able to see that it was okay for me to be angry and bitter. It was okay for me to feel hurt by the words and actions of those who once considered me their friend, pastor, or colleague in the ministry.

Many Evangelicals-turned-atheists go through an angry phase. As these former servants of the Most High God reflect on their failed marriage to Jesus, they become angry over the time and money they spent chasing a lie. It is perfectly normal to feel this way. The same can be said for bitterness. As I reflect on the thirty-three years I spent preaching the gospel, I can’t help but be bitter as I think about the sacrifices made by my family and me for the sake of the “cause.” I gave up everything to follow Jesus, choosing poverty over wealth and deprivation over comfort. And now, I face the consequences of these choices.

The key, for me anyway, is to channel my emotions into my writing and helping people who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left. If every blog post of mine was an angry rant against Christianity, atheist and Christian alike would soon tire of me and move on. If I spent all my time whining and complaining about how bad my life now is thanks to Christianity, why before long even my wife would stop reading.

My point is this: emotional responses to leaving Christianity are absolutely normal. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The key is what to do with those emotions. It’s not healthy to spend life angry and bitter. I met plenty of such people in the churches I pastored; bitter, angry, mean people who took out their “love” for Jesus on anyone who dared to cross them. Instead, let your emotions fuel your passion for a better tomorrow — one not dominated by ignorance and religious superstition. Start a blog, write a book. Do whatever YOU want to do. Now that you are freed from guilt-inducing Christianity, you are free to throw yourself into whatever floats your boat. Want to take your anger and channel it into being an atheist stripper named Darwina? Go ahead. The only person standing in your way is you!

And sometimes, just because you can, it is okay to tell overbearing, deaf, in-your-face Evangelicals to go fuck themselves. Then, kiss your significant other and say, Life is good!

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11 Comments

  1. DJ

    Thank You Bruce! Yes, I was extremely bitter and angry. Yes, they treated me like a disgruntled employee. My severely charged emotions did fuel my passion to 1st want to prove them wrong but soon, as most factual information does…I learned more than I bargained for: Reality.
    So like you expressed – if people get emotional to get into Christianity, I sure as hell can get emotional to get out!

    Reply
  2. Susannah Anderson

    The first few years, I was angry. They lied to me! They knew! (At least, the theologians and historians knew that what they taught was not true.) They stole my life! Worse, they taught me to steal my kids’ lives!

    As time went on, as I worked through the ways that fundamentalist Christianity had warped my life, I realized how deeply my mother had also been conditioned. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, she forgot; she started to become herself rather than the programmed “self-abnegating Christian missionary wife”. (Dad was another story; his Christianity, I came to realize, as I spent more time with him away from Mom, was entirely a religion of convenience, his firm principles easily set aside in the interest of “not rocking the boat” and not losing friends. He once remarked to me how he couldn’t understand Charles Templeton, who he had worked with in the old days when he and Billy Graham were together; “Chuck lost so many friends when he left.”)

    I cannot be angry any more. Deeply sad, yes; some of my former friends are now enslaved, due in large part to my teaching. One of my kids is still doing missionary work; one of his kids seems doomed to follow suit. Most of the rest of my extended family are hard at it; I love them, but I can hardly communicate; I have been blocked for even mild comments. (Like, “What does the Bible actually say about …?”)

    Bitter; sometimes, I think. Mostly not. Life is good, too good to waste on bitterness.

    And no, I was never angry at God. Why blame a non-existent entity for the damage people do?

    Reply
  3. Neil

    That’s a great comment, Susannah. Despite my circumstances being very different it really speaks to me, specially those last two lines. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Melody

    I was angry at God before and after my deconversion.

    My faith was fizzling partly because I was angry at God for not keeping his side of the bargain, and so my prayers and Bible reading and church attendance were getting less frequent. Being not as immersed in all that helped in adressing my questions: my anger gave me the guts to finally ask these questions. Before I was angry, I both loved and feared God too much to really adress them.

    So for me a sense of anger and betrayal was vital in deconverting. I still feel angry and betrayed sometimes, but many of my arguments are based on reason.

    Anger can make you bold. Bolder than you were before and so I think some anger or courage or distatisfaction is needed to begin the process of deconversion. If you are happy where you are, chances are that you won’t have doubts or simply won’t adress them.

    Reply
  5. Brian

    Because evangelical Christianity is designed to harm people, we need to be encouraged and reminded as you remind us here:
    “My point is this: emotional responses to leaving Christianity are absolutely normal. ”
    Well, being human is being emotional and Christianity is the ordained rape of emotions. One is shamed for feeling, for being self-ish, for focussing at all in a mirror. All glory goes to sweet Jesus whose daddy sat drinking hootch while his son was tortured to death before his eyes (if you believe the black book account).
    I am angry. I feel that I will always be angry regarding evangelical child abuse, exposing children to the evangelical belief system that informs us we are fallen, less-than…. What we more truly are perhaps is harmed, harmed by carrying in us what has been passed along through generations, the spooky belief systems of organized and not so organized religions, the robed popes and the suited preachers leading us along, parents giving Crosses to children instead of giving them human love, human touch.
    My anger is my badge of freedom and I feel little patience for sickly-smiling Christians who want to help back into the pew. Evangelical Christianity is a sickness that has taken much of my family and it has gone on for generations. ” A young niece looks me straight in the eye and says, Jesus has been so good this year! I am so blessed and just thank HIM, Uncle Brian. Has God been good to you?” It is like looking into the eyes of a cow, seeing shoe leather.
    I am sad. I am angry. I see the new day coming up over the hills and remain so thankful for things like dew on grass, the hint of wood-fire warming this November. I rejoice in music, get silly about the taste of food in my mouth, like eating Joy itself; I am thankful to be healthy sometimes, if a bit worn and bruised around the edges and I still want to work at life and play as much as I can. I listen. I really try to listen because I have always had trouble with strict notation and rules. I learn by listening, by ear. Much of what results is faulty but it is not fallen, not sin and not woo. It is doing life, that’s all, being awake as much as I can and knowing when it it time to rest, to let go and just breathe. There is a peace that passeth understanding: It is being around, being present for the show. Don’t let the missionaries tell you that you need to say sorry for being human. They need to say sorry for harming others, for shaming and blaming, for scaring and scarring little ones, for being too harmed and afraid to simply live alone together and feel it all.

    Reply
    1. J.D. Matthews

      +1, Brian you’re my brother from another mother.

      Reply
  6. Ami

    I haven’t felt horrible anger on my own behalf, although if I really think about it, there is a bit of emotional scarring due to the ostracism and shitty little games played by middle schoolers and teenagers as I was growing up. I didn’t like them, they didn’t like me, but somehow I was stuck with those nasty and petty little creatures three or four times a week for 8 years or so. I hated it. My parents knew I hated it. Staying home was not an option.

    I do hate that religion steals so much from people.
    Money, emotional energy, ability to feel worthwhile.

    And there’s something really sick about a ‘relationship’ that has one person groveling and crying for forgiveness for petty little things all the time.

    It’s been pointed out before that a woman having a relationship with a human man that requires routine abasement and the accepted fact that ‘I hurt you because I love you’ is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    I’m half convinced that at least some of the battered Christian women I’ve known accepted the battering and abuse from their spouse because they’d been so well-prepped for the idea of just putting up with it since they were youngsters.

    Not being angry over being duped by Christianity just doesn’t even make sense.
    Of course people are angry!!

    Reply
  7. oldbroad1

    The cognitive dissonance finally got me. No, big shining AH HA! or years of studying moment. Just, “what the fuck are you doing, oldbroad???” Even your 14 yr old doesn’t think this is logical! I really, really, really tried to believe, but just finally realized that it doesn’t make sense. Damn that engineering logic and public school education, but there it is. Still, to this day, I cantor twice a month and sing on holy days because I enjoy it. Got to give the church props for some great singing literature. I feel a little guilty in the fact that most folks at the church think I am devout, even tho I don’t mislead folks. I just don’t talk about it to them. The hubster still believes even tho he has wandered around since his teens from Bahia, to christianity to judism. He doesn’t want to hear it when I try to talk to him about it. sigh.

    Reply
  8. Charles

    Hey Bruce. I was just wondering something. What if you die one of these days, discover that Jesus really was who He said He was, and He sends you to Hell for no other reason than the fact that you served as a pastor at Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches. I can see Jesus saying it now:

    “Golly gee Bruce. You’re one Hell of a great guy. No. Not at all. That atheist stint you did never bothered me one bit—and neither did most of those other sins you committed across your long life. But I gotta tell you Bruce—I despise all those fundie churches and the awful things they do to people. I am having a really hard time getting past you being a pastor at those dumps for 25 years and hurting all those people. I mean really. Sewer line maintenance would have been a much better use of your time. No Bruce. I am not going to send you to Hell for that—but good grief—if I let you come back to Earth in a new life, can you promise me you will avoid pastoring Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches?

    Reply
  9. Jennifer

    Thank you Bruce. I feel emotions connected to leaving Christianity, especially anger. I was not allowed to feel anger for so many years though so it is all built up. I have realized I am agnostic in the last few months after 15 years as a Christian. I saw awful things happen in church and Christians DID hurt me. Those things led me on the intellectual journey because I could see that Christian just were not that special. Very few people know that I have left at this point but I m dreading dealing with Christians and especially my husband’s fundy family.

    Reply
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