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Quote of the Day: Is it Okay to be Bitter About Our Past Religious Experiences?

quote of the day

I recently wrote a post titled, Bruce, You are Bitter! Today’s quote of the day comes from a comment left on this post by my friend Zoe. Here’s what she had to say:

In my experience, Christians use the term “bitterness” to imply a personal flaw, otherwise known as something that is immoral . . . a sin. It’s a judgment statement, expressed as a fact.

So, this definition here provided by Bruce:

“The Sage VII Dictionary — my go-to software-based dictionary and thesaurus — defines “bitter” (relating to human behavior) this way:

  • Marked by strong umbrage, resentment, or cynicism
  • Proceeding from or exhibiting great hostility or animosity
  • Expressive of severe grief or guilt
  • Harsh, sarcastic, or corrosive in tone

There is no winning because it isn’t really about the definition of the term, it’s a moral judgment they are throwing at Bruce and the rest of us. Mostly because it’s the easiest approach. If they stopped to look at the definition, where is the sin? If one considers the definitions, well, there are a whole lot of bitter Christians out there taking umbrage, resenting, and well, totally cynical. Any of them out there who has not been hostile or expressed animosity in their lives? How about grief? Guilt? Anyone know a single human on the planet that has not been harsh, sarcastic, or spoke with a corrosive tone?

Here’s the thing. Throwing the term bitterness into the woodwork is lazy speech and defined by the thrower. Life is sour, sweet, bitter, and shitty.

Bitterness is often considered a sin in the religious context. In the human context, it’s helpful. I’m able to accept being bitter, not to the point of destroying my life and ruminating on it ad nauseum. Accepting the truth, whether anyone believes me or not, isn’t the point.

Years ago I spent all sorts of emotion trying to fight off the accusation of bitterness. As the years went by, I learned that by accepting the truth that I was bitter in certain areas having to do with religion (and with good reason) I was able to see bitterness not as a character flaw and/or sin, but as an honest human survival technique. Many of us had/have many reasons to in fact be bitter.

It’s those reasons that the church wants us to be quiet about. If we aren’t, they shame us. “Oh, you are just bitter.” Come back with, “You’re damn right I am.” Or, “You’re damn right I was.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I’ve said “Yes I am ______.” Fill in with angry, bitter, pissed off… whatever. “Yes, I am. Which, considering what happened, is a very rational response.” Isn’t it amazing that feelings aren’t allowed in church? Talk about control!!! It’s sick and twisted. Yeah, no thanks.

  2. Avatar

    Funny that Christians think that good people are never “bitter”.

    Their model of patience, Job, curses the day of his birth. How can one get more bitter than that?

    And, while implied, there was no extended record of songs of praise or rejoicing found at the conclusion of the book.

    I would hazard a guess that, maybe, the main thrust of the book is indeed the grief and bitterness Job felt when confronted with his fate. With the unsettling and unpredictable nature of the acts of God (and Satan as his willing agent). It’s strangely refreshing – who has not felt bitter at life at one point or another?
    Yet Christians sometimes love to blame people who are crushed under life’s burden, including the victims of wrongdoings.

  3. Avatar
    Merle Hertzler

    When a person is hurt, telling that person not to feel that hurt is not helpful advice. We all have been hurt at times, and it feels bad. And it is OK to have that feeling. It is what it is.

    The best approach is to feel that pain and think rationally about the best way to respond. When the pain is truly felt, and the mind truly given the opportunity to explore its option, the pain loses its power to control us. It then becomes possible to respond with love and forgiveness, while fully aware of the pain one has suffered.

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    We have a right to be “angry,’ ‘bitter”– or anything to which Christians attach a negative connotation–about things that traumatize, or otherwise cause lasting damage, to us.

    I can’t say I’m “bitter” about the time I spent as a Catholic or Evangelical Christian. I learned some things from those experiences–moreso Catholicism, as I grew up with it and attended Catholic school. That said, faith, religion and the institutions of church didn’t define my identity to nearly the degree that it did for someone like Bruce Plus, I think I’ve been able to “unpack,” at least to some degree, the physical as well as emotional trauma that resulted from my association with Christianity.

  5. Avatar

    I have been bitter ever since we were kicked out of our Southern Baptist church. I’ve had friends and family tell me I need to let the bitterness go, that forgiveness is for the forgiver more than the forgiven. That it is unhealthy to hang on to the bitterness, that 7 years have passed and I should “let it go.” I guess you could say I have forgiven the people that screwed us over, our “church family,” our “brothers and sisters in Christ” but I cannot let the bitterness go. Looking at it in the rearview mirror, I can even chuckle at some of the things that happened while we were “brother and sister” and when we were being unceremoniously disowned by the “family.” But when I see those people, I am indeed bitter and I don’t even want to acknowledge that I have ever known them. We live in a small town; I see them ALL the time.

    I’m a Southern girl who was taught to be friendly, to smile and greet passersby, stranger and friend alike. But, when I see church people, I pretend I’m seeing a telephone pole or a street sign or a fence post — an inanimate object that requires no recognition from me. I’m told to smile, say hello, kill them with kindness, that living well and being happy is the best revenge. I don’t want revenge and I don’t want to be kind. I want to be left the fuck alone by these toxic people. The fact that I am happy and living well belongs to me. I sacrificed so much (time, money, sweat) for that church and those people while I was “in the box.” They get no more from me.

    Thank you, Bruce, for this post — I am putting it in my pocket for future reference!

    • Avatar
      ... Zoe ~

      Hi Laine,

      I’ve be reframing a great deal of my thoughts on bitterness over the years. Like joy, like sorrow, like pain, bitterness is part of life and like grief there is no time limit to it. Do we put a time limit on joy?

      For some reason, when it comes to religious abuse, people want us to quickly forgive. Honestly, doing so might be ill advised. Especially when we’re talking about people who should not be trusted ever again with our vulnerability.

      People need to be held accountable. In abusive church situations, it’s likely they won’t be, however we can be accountable to ourselves, and that’s what matters. Our bitterness as I see it is a memory of the wrong or “sin” as some refer to it, by others against us. It’s not such a bad thing to remember bitterness, and use it to guide us in our healing, as well as keeping us safe from that kind of abuse again.

      I think that’s what you are saying when you wrote this: “The fact that I am happy and living well belongs to me. I sacrificed so much (time, money, sweat) for that church and those people while I was “in the box.” They get no more from me.”


      • Avatar

        Zoe, thank you for this affirmation. I love this – “do we put a time limit on joy?” Of course not!
        Whether they mean to or not, the people who tell me to let go of the bitterness are placing guilt on me rather than on the ones who were wrong. As always, the guilt belongs to the victimizer, not the victim.

        I should’ve given you proper acknowledgment for the post, so thanks, and thank you, Bruce, for sharing it!

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