Who is This About?

I found myself this week reading a few new blogs I came across written by women who were in the throes of transformation.

And the transformation was exceedingly painful, and the end result mostly unknown. These were women raised, and deeply indoctrinated in fundamentalist faith systems. They had broken out of such systems, and the real struggling began.

Never have I read such painful, heart-wrenching descriptions of soul-searching.  My heart literally broke in agony as I read these stories. At first questions, and then more, the searching for evidence, and the final acknowledgement that nothing they had been taught was true.

And that is the issue. The Nothingness. Each expressed in various ways the loss of foundation, the mooring of one’s being in a philosophy that grounded one’s life. The anchor had been removed. As one put it, “there is no right or wrong, no up or down.” These women could see no basis for any moral decision, in fact they could no longer define what was morality.

In some cases they were plagued with fears that the very thoughts they were thinking were the work of Satan, causing them to rethink what they had determined. They were in chaos, swimming in circles, grasping for a lifeline.

Some were still determined to find God in all this mix. Others were not sure at all that any faith was any longer possible. This is the insidious evil of fundamentalism. It is taught as an all or nothing thing. “Either every word in this book is literally true, or we have no basis for believing any of it is true, and our faith is nil.”

It is the faith of fear, threat, and punishment. If you question, you are possessed by the devil and are going to hell. Open that bible, pray. Such people often end up in mental hospitals under sedation. Any psychiatrist will tell you that many a patient is locked in a vicious loop, the perfect catch-22, and some can’t escape.

As I have said many times, fundamentalism causes more atheists than any other single factor.

I left comments on a couple, offering sympathy, and hopefully insight. I offered hope. I offered encouragement. I offered a listening ear.

I, to date, have received no reply. And I was saddened.

And that caused me to think deeply as to why I was so saddened. Why had my overtures been seemingly rejected?

Of course, that is not necessarily the case. My offers of help, of counsel, may have been taken in and treasured deeply for all I know. There is a time for everything as Ecclesiastes tells us.

But I was more concerned over my own feelings.

They gained clarity with today’s second reading from Paul to the Corinthians. (1Cor 1:10-13.17). In it Paul is lamenting the “factions” that have arisen in the city among the faithful. Some are “for Paul”, others “for Apollos”. Others “for Cephas.”

In Paul’s time, there were indeed factions. Three or four to be certain. Paul represented the most “liberal”. His position was that these new gentile Jesus followers need do nothing than profess Jesus as Lord. Cephas, or Peter, represented a more moderate “Jewish” position. Namely that the new gentile members should follow at least some of the Jewish laws. Presumably Apollos represented another school, perhaps the stricter one that all new gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow all the laws.

In any case, Paul admonishes them all, claiming that the message is distorted if it’s about who is right on all these particulars. The greatest thing by far, is the message of Jesus. That is what they are all called to preach. Losing sight of the goal is damaging to them all, as well as causing damage to the real point, the preaching to the ends of the earth of the saving power of Christ.

I began to realize that this is what I had gotten caught up in. I wanted these women to acknowledge and validate my advice. I wanted the “oh you don’t know how much you have helped me, how you have clarified things, set my heart at ease. I know that my faith is real!”

It was about me.

And I was humbled, as I thought about this. For indeed, I had never agonized over my faith in this way. I had never tossed and turned, fearing, and trembling. I had never felt the painful insecurity these women expressed.

My conversion was more intellectual. I made an assessment of arguments both for and against. I truly believe that God brought that to a head for me. And the choice was obvious to me. Still is. But I did not wrestle with the angel as Jacob did. I made a decision. I question it from time to time, I go over the “evidence”, but I don’t cry out and moan in pain.

And in some ways, I guess that means, that these women have a faith hugely bigger than mine. It is a faith fighting a behemoth of misinformation and out right lies, told to them for years. And they are still in the fight. I’m not sure I would be. Many a newly created atheist sure isn’t.

I am awed, and I am humbled. Perhaps I need do a bit more listening and a lot less giving of advice. Perhaps I am the one who needs to learn something about faith.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. D'ma
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 21:00:18

    First of all I want to say that I’m sorry if I offended you by not taking you up on your offer. This was a heartfelt post and I know assuredly that you have great faith and want to lend a helping hand. I truly did appreciate the things you posted on my blog. More than that, though, I treasure you crying with me in spirit over my faith. I truly am wresting with it. I am having a very hard time picking and choosing that which is myth and that which is factual history. It encourages me to know that you have found a way to do that.

    Sometimes we just need a shoulder to cry on and someone to listen to our pain. It is certainly not that I discounted your advice. It’s just that having been immersed in fundamentalism for my entire life, it is hard to look at any portions of the Bible as myth or allegory. It will take me some time to wrap my mind around a way to do that. One thing is certain. I no longer see the Bible in terms of black and white the way I once did. It will take me some time to adjust my focus to see the shades of gray.

    Thank you for speaking to us with compassion and kindness. I hope that I have encouraged you in some way as well.

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Jan 25, 2011 @ 11:02:12

      No need for apology at all. It is I who had something to learn from the exchange, and hopefully it put things in the proper prospective for me.

      I can but imagine what you are going through. I have heard these stories so many times, albeit in most cases, the person is a new atheist, so full of anger and hurt that one is unable to even suggest there is another way of looking at things.

      I am so glad you haven’t given up. There is so much to be gained by faith I find. I shall continue to read your blog and hope I can add a ray of hope and direction perhaps from time to time.

      Reply

  2. Zoe
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 06:46:56

    I read your comments at D’Ma’s blog Sherry. Never think that someone is ignoring your words. The wondering and pondering of words takes time. 🙂

    I’m one of those dang former-fundamentalists who is now an atheist. Blast it all anyway, right? :mrgreen:

    I also like to come along-side people as they hurt and struggle, but am not so quick to do so, as I understand what it is like to intellectually and emotionally move through it all. I don’t want them to feel like they are caught in a tug-of-war anymore than they already are.

    Having once been a Christian blogger myself and then leaving the faith, I watched as my support group dwindled. Quite simply, somewhere along the journey, my leaving the faith left those of faith no longer able to cope with my truth. It was interesting to me that at first, the worst that could happen to me is that I would leave an inerrant belief, according to my conservative evangelical blogging world. Then for a time, my heresy seemed rather vogue in a blogging world that seemed to be speaking up about a shift in the belief of an inerrant Bible. My doubts were praised and encouragement given to “carry-on” … for I was headed to a “better” way. Not something so black and white anymore. Throw out the bath water, but not the baby.

    Then as the baby took its leave, suddenly, that was the worst of the worst. Christians who had liked my changing ways, away from the black and white, away from the fundamentalism, who were championing my courage and honesty, began to think any belief in “God” was better than no belief! Eegaads, the girl is an atheist! And with that, good-bye to that world and hello new world. Naturally, I became of champion to those who had left the faith in the past and who found themselves in the throes of leaving the faith.

    I consider myself an agnostic atheist. I don’t know, and, pragmatically I live my life without “God”…but more than anything I want to say that “being atheist” doesn’t have to generally be a “bad” thing, which I think might be at the heart of your concern for those who are doubting and perhaps on a slippery slope?

    Tea’s ready. I’ll end what has been a rather long comment and hope it can be accepted in a spirit of mutual sharing and caring amongst us all.

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Jan 26, 2011 @ 14:26:43

      Thank you so much for your words. I guess I’m angry at fundamentalism, have been for years. So many when they see the error of fundamentalism end up in atheism. I find it sad, but frankly, throughout the years I’ve known many great friends who were atheists and I always have good conversations. Today’s “new atheists” are mean-spirited and mocking and I find that unacceptable. I don’t follow any anymore online.

      I agree, we tend to keep hoping that you won’t lose your faith in God, and in the end, any faith will do, but given my own journey, I’d be the last to try to harp on it. Faith is between a person and God, and frankly, no one can will themselves to faith.

      Perhaps you have things to learn in this place you have carved out for yourself, and certainly Christianity nor any other faith system has a corner on morality. A life well lived in love and harmony with others –better done than all the preaching without living it, by a long shot.

      I believe in no concept of hell and thus that all return to the creator, hopefully for new adventures either back here on earth or in new systems.

      I’m sorry that your loss of “friends” who were sharing the walk with you. I’ll wander to your blog and see what you have to say. If it’s like what you said here, I will be very interested in learning from you.

      I agree, atheism is at it’s best, not at all a bad thing. BUt I suspect you are more an agnostic who isn’t particularly interested in searching right now. That too is just fine.

      Reply

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  4. Zoe
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 16:07:43

    Here’s the thing Sherry. Just about all of us who come out of fundamentalism are angry too or have been angry at some point along the journey. And I believe, rightly so, having been first on the side of not being a fundamentalist, then being a fundamentalist, then not being a fundamentalist and ending up on the non-theist end of the stick…I get the “anger” part. I believe being angry is an important phase of grieving, after having left the faith. It makes it easier to move on but it’s a very personal thing with no specific time limit aportioned to it. Some move through it easier than others. Some may stay angry their whole lives.

    I’ve grown quite tired of the term “new atheist.” :mrgreen: I wish whoever invented it, hadn’t bothered. The term gets thrown around by theists and I have to laugh because those of us who are non-theists now could just as easily throw around the term “new Christians” … as the diversity amongst Christians grows. To me, the term “new atheist” means nothing. There’s nothing new about being atheist. Humanist might be a better term but it has gotten a bad rap down through the ages as well. I guess I want to avoid the terminology because I don’t see “all” so-called “new atheists” as mocking and mean-spirited. Just some of them. Same thing with “some” Christians and humans in general. Some of us are class ‘A’ jerks regardless of our belief or non-belief. 🙂 I use to be a moderator on an free-thinkers forum. I resigned and girl did I get called out. I’ve since decided there are no “truly” free-thinkers on the planet. 🙂

    Oh I think all of us are in a perpetual state of learning…even if we don’t want to learn. Your belief system sounds very interesting and comforting for you. Mystical perhaps. No hell sounds good to me and hmm, if you get a chance to do it all again, and have a choice about it, what would you like to be when you come back? I think I should like to be an astro-physicist, a race car driver, a dancer &/or a doctor. Oh and maybe a famous blogger too. 😆 Though I always tell my mom if I get a chance, I’m coming back as “God.” 😉

    And I am an agnostic. A menopausal agnostic. 🙂 Am I more one than the other, agnostic or atheist? Depends on who you ask.

    I do not search to replace my belief system of the past, and at the same time, my searching is endless. I love it. 🙂

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Jan 29, 2011 @ 13:18:00

      Thank you for you long and detailed reply.

      I think I am just starting to realize how deeply angry ex-fundies are (I use the term, because I’m just awfully tired of typing it all out!). And I agree, anger can be short-lived or long term, and each person will engage in it until they are purged. Sadly I suspect some never are.

      I do understand your objection to labels. But you see, I’m an old woman, and I’ve known atheists all my life, in fact I was more one that an agnostic at times. But in the day, they were intellectuals who you could really argue and debate with, all in friendly banter. Today, it’s quite another thing. Most all that I run into online at least are simply mean. They denigrate believers and make fun and jokes. They are so sure they are right, when in the end, they simply believe they are. Any scientist would disabuse them of their certainty principle, since no scientist is certain of much of anything.

      Yet, it is probably not good to label, although labeling a subgroup as “new” is a way of separating them from the normal sort of atheist.

      I don’t know that my belief system is comforting. It is what it is, and frankly it is often a source of irritation. I could wish that God were some other things that I believe he is not. For instance, I wish God could answer my prayers. But I think that that is part of the “deal.” If we are to have true freedom of action and belief, God can’t step in and alter things. It’s part of his agreement of non-interference. We must come to him freely. I believe God acts through us to the extent that we offer ourselves to his actions. That is how prayers get answered. God may prod, and we are free to answer or not. If we do, a prayer is answered perhaps.

      I would agree, there are some mystical elements to my faith. I think that it is short-sighted to think that the only “reality” is the five senses. Some stuff in evolutionary biology and astrophysics tend to agree a bit. We have no idea what other powers are still latent in the human mind, and certainly some do attain certain “states” that are not the norm.

      I’m not sure I believe in re-incarnation, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing. lol..

      Glad to know you are still learning and advancing. That is a journey, no matter how you name it.

      Reply

  5. DoOrDoNot
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 23:14:47

    Sherry,
    I appreciate your reflective spirit and willingness to process your experience of these blog conversations. I hope you will continue to comment as you see fit. It is good to be reminded of a possible middle way, when all some of us see is a choice between all or nothing. My experience in leaving behind an inerrant view of scripture and a fundamentalist background is that I am finally free to think and doubt and be angry that I wasn’t allowed to do those things for so long. It’s hard not to be a bit reactionary and kick it all to the curb. What I have needed are friends who can hear me and validate my feelings, who listen a great deal and offer thoughts sparingingly and tentatively. I’ve needed a great deal of space to question and reject. I’m interested in seeing what I can build back up, but I’m not sure I’m done tearing down yet. However, in all that, I have appreciated being steered back to a greater willingness to hold onto God by patient Christian friends who offer up their thoughts from time to time.

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Jan 29, 2011 @ 14:39:52

      I am just learning how deep is the rage and the time it may take to unburden from the “life”. I guess I can truly see how it is difficult to trust anyone when you have placed so much trust in an interpretation and had it approved by pastors again and again.

      I guess that as a Catholic, I’ve always distrusted anyone who told me what to believe. I was eager to hear their reasoning, but in the end always understood the final decision was mind. Although the Church has a definite dogma which it calls all its people to agree to, we are also admonished that our own consciences, led by the Spirit, we believe, must take primacy.

      I am hopeful that I may learn more. I’ve spent a good deal of time arguing with fundamentalists and atheists, but never much at all with those who are trying to figure out what they believe after leaving fundamentalism.

      I can truly see why so many ex-fundies cannot find anything that they can trust as true in matters of faith. After all, we all admittedly are in the area of belief rather than knowing.

      I just must be careful not to get involved with side debates about homosexuality and other essentially side issues. Understanding the history of the various parts of the bible is a full-time, life-time job, and I do not come by my opinions on my own, but from scholars that I have learned to trust, and who are upheld within their disciplines as careful and brilliant experts.

      But I turn to mystics and spiritually-minded to refresh my faith whenever I get a bit too nuts and bolts and forget the pure simplicity of faith in something greater than myself.

      Thanks for your input. I shall continue visiting and listening.

      Reply

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