Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Deconstruction: Conclusion

I’m not sure how the term “deconstruction” was first applied to the process of reconsidering long-held religious beliefs (my half-hearted googling produced nothing helpful, SO I GUESS WE’LL NEVER KNOW). It’s commonly used by fellow “exvangelicals” (people recovering from their hard-core evangelicalism) and made a lot of sense to me when I started the process of picking up and evaluating every brick that made up the structure of my faith, and deciding, piece by piece, what would stay and what would go. At this end of it, though, I’m not sure I like the image “deconstruction” leaves me with: a pile of rubble to be dumped, a stack of blocks to keep, and a patch of dirt, waiting for something new to be built on it. 

Actually, I feel like I’ve been simultaneously taking down and building up, deconstructing and constructing. Maybe the image of taming a jungle works better? It’s like I’ve hacked through those plants that squeeze the life out of other plants, and I’m left with only the juicy, healthy… plants...? (Look, I know nothing about jungle-taming. Possibly I should have thought about this before using it as an analogy.) Wait, no! Tidying a cupboard! It’s like I’ve pulled everything out of my faith cupboard, binned the parts that didn’t spark joy, and stored the rest in colourful boxes and jars that make me happy when I look at them. What I’m trying to say is this: to me, the term “deconstruction” suggests ending up with emptiness, waiting, incompletion. Instead, where I’m at feels ordered and whole and lush and done. To quote God for a sec, I now look at everything I believe about the world and think, “This is good.”

from here
I’d been taught that without God there was no real love, no real freedom, and no real morality. It hadn’t fit with what I’d observed in the world, but I’d crammed it into my faith cupboard anyway. No more! To the bin you go, weird doctrine! I could see that the no-one-knows-love/freedom/morality-like-Christians-do was a rather cult-y lie we’d been told in order to feel like we’d made the right life choices, so that we could continue to convince others to be more like us (“Hiya! The love you feel for your friends/family/self isn’t real love because you’re not a Christian! Come along to my church to find out how real love is about God killing Jesus because he hates everything you are on a fundamental level! Yaaaayyyy!”). I could no longer deny the fact that close friends and siblings were living good, happy, liberated and loving lives without God. As I found answers to life’s big questions outside of the Bible and church, I saw that one did not need religion to be ethical or kind, to experience peace, to enjoy healthy relationships, or to make the world a better place.

In fact, I now noticed many people outside the church who were working to make the world an easier, kinder place not only for themselves and their friends and families, but for others outside their immediate circles. Inside of Christianity, so many spent their time and talents and money on themselves and other Christians – attending conferences, writing books about what the Bible really, truly and actually says, donating a great deal of time and money to their church and to other individuals and organisations to allow them to perform their ministry work, delivering meals to fellow congregants. It felt uncomfortably insular when compared with the efforts of those outside of Christian circles, where there seemed to be fewer boundaries to the offer of help and relief and solidarity and empowerment.

Meals and time and money were given generously, with no one having to first agree to be preached to, and with nothing expected in return. People campaigned for justice and for the environment and worked tirelessly to smash the patriarchy and white supremacy and call out ableism and ageism and stand with those who were vulnerable and oppressed. The focus was on life now, rather than on what one bunch of people had decided happened after death. I chucked out the idea that people who look most like me should be the first ones to whom I dedicate my resources, and I put the checking-of-my-privilege and the campaigning and the mindfulness and the generosity and the equality back into my cupboard.

///

Now may be the time to tackle the fact that though I did not intend this series to come across in a self-help-y “I ditched religion and now my life’s amazeballs!” way, I realise it kinda has. I know that I’m most likely not cured forever from mental illness, and, as enlightened as I’ve written myself to be, I still have a lot of work to do. I’m not perfect: I wear unethical jeans, I’m unhelpfully sarcastic when interacting with Jordan Peterson fans online, I grow too easily exasperated with Moses and Hazel when I’m tired, yet I continue to stay up well past my bedtime. I ignore my guilt and shop at Woolworths because it’s well-stocked and convenient. I always believe the mean things I think about myself, and struggle to believe the kind things others say about me.

I sometimes imagine running over people who ignore pedestrian crossings and traffic flow and casually cross the road in front of my fast-approaching car. I often don’t love being spoken to between the hours of 7-9am and 5:30-11pm and am therefore extremely unpleasant to share a house with. I still fall back on “white saviour” responses to race issues, and am repeatedly uncovering more deeply-held racist beliefs. I call myself a pacifist but found it profoundly satisfying to watch the video of a young man cracking an egg over the head of a particularly awful politician today.

I consider deliberately misspelling the names of people who misspell my name in their replies to emails in which “Annelise” is clearly and correctly written. I yell at Moses for leaving it so long to eat that he can no longer cope with anything and has started yelling at everyone instead, and then realise that I’ve left it too long without eating which is why I’m not coping with his noise and yelling at him about eating. My default is never to face problems with vulnerability and grace but to run away and hide forever. I drink bubble tea despite the fact that a lot of plastic died to make it (even the plastic straw comes wrapped in plastic).

I’m weirdly good at spotting the flaws in things, which makes me a handy proof-reader and a frustratingly critical spouse/mother. There are many situations in which my go-to reaction is “THIS IS WRONG” when it could/should be “THIS IS INTERESTING.” I imagine macabre revenge scenarios rather than mature, redemptive approaches for everyone who’s harmed a vulnerable person. I write lengthy blog posts about how great I am now that I’m not a Christian, and reassure myself that it’s kind of acceptable because I did, after all, decide to include four whole paragraphs about how I’m actually annoying. 

I’m not completely acing the Being-a-Phenomenal-Human thing, but the fact that I want to ace it – and the fact that I am changing – belies the claim that such things are impossible without God. That’s what I’ve been trying to say. 

This picture doesn't mean anything, I'm just trying to
distract you from how many words there are.

I culled a LOT. I got rid of the idea that eternity existed after death, and that hell was an appropriate punishment for anyone. I chucked the idea that violence was justified when perpetrated by God. I (*checks thesaurus*) discarded the jargon and concepts that even as an insider I’d never been able to fully wrap my head around – “God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” “The church is the body of Christ,” “Marriage between a man and a woman reflects Christ’s relationship with the church,” “Forgiveness,” “The Bible is God’s Word” and also “Jesus is God’s Word.” (So much of what I said and sang and wrote in cards to my friends was strange and/or meaningless, but I said/sang/wrote it anyway, happy to know the lingo which proved I belonged. Nowadays, I read church signs and think to myself, “I’m not sure they realise that what they’ve written doesn’t make sense to anyone but church people.”)

I threw out literally everything evangelical churches had taught me about men and replaced it with what I knew from being surrounded by people for 30-something years: firstly, that men, like every other group of humans, are not a homogeneous bunch that can be simply defined with a statement that begins with “Men are…”. While it was true that some men truly were violent and/or creepy and/or terrible at caring for children, baking, or noticing that their wives were straining under the pressure of the family responsibilities theyd been lumped with, this was not because they were poorly designed.

It was because throughout their lives they’d been taught in ways both im- and explicit that their time/opinions/feelings mattered more than anyone else’s in their world, and they’d never been offered reason to question any of this. I knew that those men existed, but so did other men, good friends who treated me as a fellow human rather than a sex object, men who had the same worries about their children as I did, men who split childcare and housework with their partners or took on the bulk of it themselves, men who enjoyed the same books/music as I did, men who were in love with other men, men who gossiped and cooked and juggled work or study and family life, men who didn’t flip out when anyone mentioned toxic masculinity.

By this stage, my studies had taught me that science showed a fascinating amount of variation both among and between the sexes, which suggested that offering only a Man Track and a Woman Track for us all to try to force ourselves into was sadly inadequate. I found the church’s focus on people’s biology boring and stifling; I had zero interest in learning about someone by knowing their hormone levels or anatomy or brain pings. I wanted to hear what that person was passionate about, what they excelled at, what made them laugh, what made them dance, what made them angry, what disappointed them, and why. I didn’t want to box anyone based on their body, as I’d been boxed. We’re all somewhere on the gender-y spectrum, and curiosity seems far more interesting and necessary to me than hard boundaries or the policing of categories.

So I crushed up the narrow, restrictive expressions of sexuality and gender I’d been taught. They’d been crumbling for a good, long while, but it was deeply satisfying first to smoosh them and then to set the vacuum cleaner on them and watch them disappear for good. (Do you like that I introduced a metaphorical vacuum cleaner?!) The gender roles and stereotypes taught and perpetuated by churches are harmful to everyone (straight, cis men included, although it’ll likely take some in this group longer than everyone else to notice the downsides); though I got rid of them, I kept my fury over their damage in a cute little box on my freshly-cleared shelves, next to the integrity, honesty and authenticity I’d discovered during my clean-up.

Another cool discovery in this deconstruction process (along with finding my body) was that my optimism fundamentally clashed with almost everything Calvin/God stood for, and that, overall, I actually felt a tingly love and generous hope for the human race as a whole. I began to feel connected with others in a way I hadn’t before in my black-and-white, Us vs. Them world; I started to see our many similarities rather than our one, religion-centred difference, and catch myself thinking WE’RE ACTUALLY QUITE LOVELY, US HUMANS and also I THINK WE’RE GOING TO BE OKAY. I threw out pessimistic ideas of us all being perpetually disappointing to God, and began to notice the regular ways in which we are wonderful to one another. (Please note that this warm feeling does not extend to anyone convinced that complementarianism is the only possible way to have a good marriage, Jordan Peterson fans, or anyone who tries to tell me mind-numbingly dull anecdotes about a conversation they had with someone I’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again. I truly am a work in progress.)


from here

Throughout the process, I also acknowledged that there were many versions of Christianity, and it's as unhelpful to think about the religion as if everyone who stood under its umbrella was identical as it was to think this way about gender. I’ve talked generally about Christianity over this series, but I’m not opposed to all of it, mostly just the evangelical types I’ve spent time with, and any kind that makes anyone feel like it’d be better to suicide than to live life being who they are. I still like the progressive strains, where God is only ever love, never violence or retribution, and the dodgy parts of the Bible are never ignored or justified, and social injustice makes people crankier than swearing does, and masturbation and enthusiastically-consensual sex is talked about shamelessly, and right now matters, and everyone seems more honest about the ebbs and flows of faith and doubt.

I have a lot of time for such Christians; I might be one of them, if I could bring myself to believe anything. Alas, I see no evidence for God, and I feel neither the desire nor the need to find any. It was Christianity that taught me I needed a God, and, once I’d let go of Christianity, I realised I’d never bothered to ask it why that was the case. Post-deconversion, I was unable to answer such a question myself; why did I need a god? What for? If my life was chock full of peace and wellness and happiness and awe and gratitude over sunsets and parrots and cuddles and community and kindness without God, what was the point of Her? I was tired of believing pointless things just because I’d been told I should. (In other news, I still feel a zap of joyful energy run through me at the sound/sight of She/Her pronouns for God. Every time! I bloody love it.)

I don’t think I have a problem with others believing in a god (any of them), as long as no harm is being done to anyone, although this quickly becomes tricky when taking into consideration the fact that many evangelical Christians define “harm” and “love” rather differently to most of the rest of the population (to name just one example, “love” for many evangelicals meant voting no on same-sex marriage). Invariably, the Christians I have the most respect for, such as Father Rod Bower or Glennon Doyle, are the ones most likely to be called heretics or to have their “Christian” badge threatened, usually for caring more about people than dogma.

(It seems that deciding who’s In and who’s Out is a never-ending job for many Christians, and one of the things I now hate most about fundamentalist flavours of religion. During my time in Anglican churches in Sydney, I learned that Catholics weren’t really Christians, and that even among Protestants there was a hierarchy of rightness, with the Uniting church waaaay down the bottom of the pile and Sydney Anglicans [only the good ones, not the ones who thought women should be fully ordained] up the very top. The people on top decide who’s actually In; the people at the bottom seem completely disinterested in participating in such a game. When I was in that world, it’d been exhausting constantly measuring others to figure out where they sat on the ladder, and whether I needed to intervene and change them. It was freeing to chuck out the judging.) (Some of the judging, at least.)

I’ve also learned that there are progressive people-lovers in and out of all faiths, not just Christianity, and that the god one follows (or doesn’t) matters far less than one’s views on who deserves love and justice and empathy and equality, and - most importantly - how such views translate into practice.

///

As the deconstruction progressed, I learned to check in repeatedly with my values and my body, getting better and better at deciding how to stock my metaphorical cupboard. I listened to my gut to make decisions about unclear situations in which I felt as though my integrity was being compromised. I prioritised honesty and authenticity over people-pleasing. This self-care also meant reflecting on and finding compassion for past-me, who’d dived deep into Christianity for so long. I analysed what had driven me to God and accepted that religion had filled certain needs of mine well for a time.

I’d grown up hearing no alternatives to evangelical Christianity; my mother was hugely influential in forming so much of my worldview, and I unquestioningly believed most of the things she said to me about religion (and men, and vaccines, and dieting) up until the age of 22, when I finally, startlingly, began to wonder if perhaps she could sometimes be wrong about some things. Converting to Christianity was a fail-safe way of impressing her, where ambition and moxie had so far proven unsuccessful. So there was that.

Having God in my life had also helped me cope with my sister’s premature birth and death, as well as offering a sense of control over what would happen to me after my own life ended. I’d also really liked the idea of a God who could cruelly punish the man who’d molested me; I didn’t know that He would, but I knew that He could, whereas I’d felt utterly powerless to seek justice for myself. (God also seemed way more down with the idea of torture than I was, and I’d been quite happy to hand justice over to Him for this reason.)

Social psychology classes taught me the importance of belonging; we all want/need to be included in groups, and gravitate towards like-minded people. I craved such community in my 20s – moving to Sydney from country New South Wales was scary and left me feeling isolated and lonely. At church, I was instantly welcomed into a ready-made gaggle of friends, all of whom were keen for me to stick around and join their cause. I also found there an answer to all of the questions I had (or didn’t yet have) about the world; everything I needed to know could be boiled down to 6 simple boxes in a (strangely power-centric) gospel presentation (which we learned off by heart so we could recite it perfectly at our unsuspecting lunch-eating victims). Everything else could also be known, if I learned my Bible and waited long enough for God to talk to me through it. I loved this idea! My anxiety loved this idea! No more confusion! No more incomprehension! At night, I felt comforted by the thought that God was always nearby, ready to listen to my thoughts and worries when I had no one else with whom to share them. It all felt really nice.

I began to feel gratitude for what my faith had offered me throughout the time it’d played a role in my life, including introducing me to my husband and some beautiful friends. It’d protected me from icky feelings for a while, before it became the reason for different icky feelings. I got a sense of why others remained or felt freshly drawn to Christianity, acknowledging everything I’d used it for and gained from it.

If you’ll allow me to introduce just one more metaphor to this ridiculously metaphor-saturated post, by the end, Christianity felt like an outdated rain-jacket that was now entirely the wrong shape and size for me, stopping me from breathing easily and cutting off my blood supply whenever I tried to squeeze myself back into it. It’d once brought protection and comfort, but it no longer fit; it was time to throw it out. (I’d have sent it to Salvos, but there were holes all through OMG I’M LOVING THIS SO MUCH.)

So. That’s where I’m at now: a quirky but logical, meaningful and flexible structure. A luscious green forest, growing and stretching up towards the sun. A tidy cupboard (always open for rearranging). A full heart, a chatty body, listening ears, a hopeful outlook, lots yet to learn, far more evolving to do.

As Jesus said it would, the truth really did set me free.

*cue dance party*

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Evangelicalism was harmful to my mental health

Anxiety and depression have been acquaintances of mine for as long as I can remember (I thought of saying “friends of mine,” given we know each other so well, but I don’t like them, so… ¯\_()_/¯). As a child, I was eaten by worry that I would be kidnapped, murdered, or kidnapped and murdered, that my family would be raptured and Id be left behind, and also that eternal afterlives were an actual thing and that maybe I’d be spending mine burning in a fiery pit. As an adult, I was eaten by worry that my husband would get sick of me, my pregnancies would end prematurely, my babies would suddenly die in their sleep, and that I would let everyone down and end up abandoned and loathed. I’ve been suicidal at various points over the years, in high school, at uni, after uni, and then following Hazel’s birth; depression seems to be my brain’s nifty go-to for dealing with all major life changes. I think the reasoning goes something like, “Hey! I know what would make all this overwhelmingness heaps easier! NOT EXISTING!

I’d had a particularly rough time during Hazel’s pregnancy. After two previous miscarriages I worried I’d never be able to have a second child, and a bleed early on (at which point an ultrasound revealed no heartbeat and I was told I’d miscarried again) didn’t help. Like, at all. I was a ball of stress and fear – both rational and irrational – for 9 months. I also worried that my worry would affect my baby. I’d been told that God had a plan for me, but I knew from relatively recent experience that perhaps said plan involved aborting my embryos, so it didn’t fill me with the comfort intended. (I was also told that my three miscarried babies would be waiting for me in heaven, which I found both disturbing and logistically unlikely.) It was all profoundly unfun.

We then left the church soon after Hazel was born, which meant Alan was suddenly jobless and hoping that someone would give him work to allow him to transition out of ministry and back into engineering. While he applied for positions, a kind church friend offered him a temporary job in their family business, so he started heading out to their warehouse early each morning, leaving me to figure out the parenting-two-children thing on my own. Before, Alan had been working and studying part-time, which meant he’d been around for breakfasts and dinner preparation; now, he was gone for 11 hours every day.

At night-time, I found it difficult to sleep, partly because Hazel snored, and partly because when she stopped snoring I’d freak out that she’d stopped breathing at all. I lay in bed worrying that Alan would never find an engineering job, and that God was upset with us for questioning what we’d been taught. I worried that everyone at our church felt disappointed and betrayed by us now, and that itd been a mistake to walk away rather than continuing to fight for change from within.

During the days, I felt guilty for not spending as much time with Moses as I had before Hazel came along, and for not spending the kind of one-on-one time with Hazel that I’d been able to spend with Mo when he was her age. With newborn Moses I’d napped when he napped; with newborn Hazel, I spent her naps playing Duplo and throwing balls with Mo, repeatedly reminding him to keep quiet so he wouldn’t wake her. I felt exhausted and incompetent, and ragey over simple things like the fact that I could barely fit in a shower without being urgently needed by one of my children. (I have a photo of Moses on a chair in the hallway outside the bathroom door, having found the best possible position to watch me shower and offer repeated reminders that I needed to fetch him more morning tea ASAP.) I belonged to everyone but me.



I’d been taught for years by that point that motherhood was the peak experience for women – it’s what my body had been especially designed by God to do! – and, despite the fact that I’d begun to challenge this idea, I was still disappointed that I wasn’t finding it as fulfilling as churchy men (and women!) had implied I would. I wondered if this was my punishment for pushing back against the church’s teaching on gender roles; if I could just believe it, everything would feel so much easier for me. Why couldn’t I just believe?!

As time went by, I grew increasingly critical of myself. I was a terrible mother, I decided. I wasn’t wifing well, either; poor Alan had married a dud. I was letting everyone down. I’d failed. My family would be better off without me. I found caring full-time for my darling, irrational and noisy children both too much and too little; I was simultaneously bored and overwhelmed. I hated it. I hated myself for hating it. And on and on I went, until my brain piped up and said, “Hey! I know what would make all this overwhelmingness easier!”

from here
Once we’d left the church, we were no longer required to follow any denomination’s rules, and I was finally free to decide what I really, truly believed. My deconstruction had been progressing steadily in the background of my life up to that point, against my will, mostly, but I slowly allowed the process to unravel as it should, rather than fighting against each and every step. I picked up each doctrine that made up the structure of my faith, held it, examined it from every angle, and challenged it. I asked myself, “Does this actually make sense?” and “If you didn’t have to, would you agree with this?”

I found that the gender roles I’d been taught by the church (and Western culture) – specifically, that mothering was the most valuable thing I could be doing with my time and that I should give my everything to serving my husband and kids and making their lives easier – were still influencing and shaming me, despite the fact that I was pretty sure I’d already rejected them. It was exactly like that thing where you sign up for a free month of something and then find out, 4-and-a-half months later, that you didn’t properly cancel your subscription and have been paying approximately $14 per month to a company you never intended to pay any money to at all. I realised I had to decide:
  1. Do I keep trying to be the wife/mother the church told me I should be after it looked at my body and placed me on The Woman Track? Do I keep trying to squish myself into this box I’m apparently supposed to fit in, despite the fact that I’m not the right shape for it? As much as I wanted to – for the sake of keeping those in power happy and avoiding all boat-rocking – I couldn’t. I was exhausted and depressed and had completely lost sight of who I was and what I wanted, unsure if I was even allowed to have desires and needs.
  2. Do I work harder at tossing rigid gender roles, but keep fighting to transform the church, in the hope that one day it’d finally love me for me, not for the woman it wants to mould me into? While I loved the idea of doing this, I had no energy left for the actual doing of it. Arguing for my worth with people who had zero interest in hearing my views or changing theirs had left me burnt out and hollow.
  3. Do I choose me, and rescue myself from this soul-crushing misery? 
I chose #3. I told Alan I couldn’t do the full-time-mothering thing anymore, and that I was desperate to know that I mattered in our family, too. At first, I blamed depression, but later, as I let go of the idea that I was somehow supposed to be suited to spending full days with tiny people, I was simply honest: it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t that I was somehow flawed, it was that I was being expected to fulfil a role I’d never wanted in the first place, handed me by men who interpreted the Bible in a way that (coincidentally?) meant they’d never have to clean the bathroom. I told Alan what I needed, which was for him to work four days a week instead of five, so that I’d have some time to study that wasn’t dictated by Hazel’s naps or Mo’s preschool days. I enrolled in my psychology degree. I began to learn and grow and prioritise myself. In the process, I found me again. Alan and the kids demonstrated that they were both able and willing to make room for me in the same way I had for them.

Mothering and identity and depression and finally chucking out gender roles influenced and were influenced by my deconstruction work. I made some surprising discoveries as I sorted through and examined every piece of my faith; for a start, I’d never realised I had core values – I’d always pointed to the Bible whenever I had to justify the reasons I felt however I did about a particular issue – but here they were, trapped under some religiony bricks. I found that integrity and honesty were hugely important to me, and that both had been hidden over the years I’d spent gaslighting myself and hoping to eventually stop wrestling with doctrines that felt uncomfortable and wrong to me, and simply accept and believe them all. Authenticity was another key value of mine with which I’d lost touch whilst attempting to (out)perform the role of Good Christian Woman™. I’d ignored these as I tried to live up to standards set by others, killing little pieces of myself each time. I was excited to finally listen to and be driven by these values – values that energised and impassioned me – rather than overriding them repeatedly with Bible passages, sermon notes, and thoughts like, “You can’t think that!” and “*gasp* That’s not allowed!”

Along with my values, I found my body in the deconstructing process, which was the most shocking and wonderful discovery of it all. She’d been stuffed behind stacks of dogma-blocks, back when I was confused about what to do with her, and angry with the limitations imposed on her by evangelical Christianity. It had felt protective to detach from my body, splitting myself in two and spending most of my time hanging out in my head, ignoring, as far as possible, the rest of me. My brain/mind was safe and trustworthy, because it could be used to read and understand and think about theology. My body, on the other hand, was neither safe nor trustworthy. A (Christian) man had helped himself to my body when I was still a child. My body felt like an unsafe place to live after that. My body hadn’t been strong enough to ward off anxiety and depression each time they’d swung by. My body had meant I’d been set on a path I’d never wanted, and it had allowed others to dismiss my point of view. My body was the reason it was assumed that I’d be taking on the bulk of parenting and housework, and also the reason I had to argue so hard for every. single. tiny. step. towards equality at home and church. I’d felt so disappointed in her, so angry with her, so unsure of her.

In what would turn out to be perfect timing for this series, Hazel came home from school last week singing a ditty her class had been taught called Boss of my Own Body by Teeny Tiny Stevies (I’ve added the video below. YOU’RE SO WELCOME). It’s a cute song that teaches kids about consent, and listening to/watching Hazel’s enthusiastic, girl-power renditions makes my heart soar. The first time she sang it to us, I thought of a Christian song, called Jesus is the Boss, that we used to sing with toddler-Moses, which was similar in that it was aimed at kids and talked about bodies, but different in every other way. In the Christian world we’d inhabited, I was not the boss of my own body; Jesus was the boss. If he said walk, I was expected to walk. If he said sing, I should sing. Autonomy – the goal of the Teeny Tiny Stevies song – is wrong, according to this worldview; your body doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to God. And guess who was the best at explaining what God really wanted? Men! (Who did my body belong to?!)

Boss of My Own Body by Teeny Tiny Stevies

Spending my life in churches influenced by John Calvin’s pessimistic view of the world had also given me plenty of time to soak up the message that I was “totally depraved,” meaning that fundamentally, nothing about me was good or kind or helpful or sweet. My gut feelings, my sadness, my frustration, my worry: all of these were extremely suss. In this world, my discomfort over hierarchies was probably not really about a deep-seated desire for equality, it was really an example of my sinful desire to rule over men. My disappointment over the way women and LGBTQI+ people were treated by my churches was probably actually an evil refusal to submit to God’s Word. And my boobs definitely weren’t okay – those two were no more than stumbling blocks for poor Christian dudes.

Reclaiming and apologising to and reconnecting with my body was by far and away the most healing part of deconstructing. I became better at listening to her and saying yes to the things that felt right and good (e.g., talking honestly with Alan about how I was feeling, going to yoga), and no to the things that made me feel uncomfortable or upset (e.g., attending church, arguing with men over whether my gifts should matter more than the fact I had a vagina). I learned to regularly check in with my body and make my decisions based on the messages she was sending me about particular people or books or situations or chocolate bars. This part of the process proved to be more beneficial for my mental health than any of the drugs I’d been taking to help me feel more inclined to choose life over death.


Finding my body during deconstruction did wonders for my mental wellbeing, as did culling Calvin’s idea that I was rotten to the core and worthless in God’s eyes (my depression had all too readily jumped on board with this doctrine). I binned the idea that anything and everything good I did should be attributed to God, not to me, because I was nothing without Him. I began to notice this lack of self-esteem and self-efficacy in other Christians, growing increasingly frustrated with their decisions to “trust in God” and “pray about things,” waiting, waiting, waiting for divine intervention rather than making obvious and necessary decisions and changes for themselves. It angered me that this inaction was framed as a sign of righteousness rather than enabling or mental illness.

I also started to pay attention to how little credit the Christians I knew were able to take (or give) for any strengths or talents they (or others) possessed. In 2017, for example, I picked up a few relatives from Sydney airport and then headed to Canberra for a short family holiday at Floriade. My grandmother, who’d spent the drive down chilling in the passenger seat beside me, clapped her hands upon our arrival at the Airbnb, exclaiming, “Praise the Lord for getting us here safely!” It was clearly my driving skills, alertness, and road-rule-following (and those of the other drivers with whom we’d shared the motorway) that had delivered my grandmother to her destination in one piece, but somehow it was the Lord who got all the glory. (I suspect this is how many family cooks feel at dinnertime or special gatherings, when someone suggests we all thank God for the food in front of us, meals that have taken an actual person hours to plan and shop for and then prepare. But sure, let’s thank God for all this food. We should, I suppose, be grateful that God chose us to provide for and not, say, the 3.1 million children who will die of malnourishment this year.)

Contrary to what I’d been taught and the repeated apologies I’d been offering to God for a decade by that point, I realised that the things I thought and did werent all that bad. My deepest desires weren’t towards selfishness or cruelty or pettiness; it wasn’t difficult for me to see and want to choose what was supportive and self-sacrificing in an effort to make others happy (I’d literally almost killed myself doing this for my children). I had work to do, but I wasn’t totally depraved, or even quite depraved – I was a thoroughly okay person! I was free, finally, not only to be myself, but to like myself. A lot. 

Deconstruction allowed me to break up with both my psychiatrist and my antidepressants halfway through last year. (I miss the psychiatrist. I dont miss the meds.) The freedom and wholeness I now feel are both entirely new and entirely wonderful.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jesus seemed no more impressive than other humans


In an earlier post, I mentioned the fact that when Christianity gets uncomfortable, we’re encouraged to look at Jesus’ words and actions – as documented in the “New” Testament – and remember that God has a lefty side to Him and is therefore worth sticking with because you want to, not just because you have to. When I first became a Christian, my faith was all about God – He was the one I ultimately needed to impress, after all, while Jesus was merely the punching bag who’d cleared things up so that I could now chat directly with the Man Upstairs. I grew up taking for granted the fact that God was real, and Jesus was always a key part of the God story. I’d never needed to have Jesus’ God-ness proven, or to figure out his miracles, or to make sure he’d actually existed. I’d assumed and accepted all of it.

As my deconstruction continued, I came to appreciate Jesus more. Though I found God problematic and the church insular and blokey, Jesus’ perspective on the world was one I could mostly get behind. There are a bunch of examples of Jesus treating women with kindness and respect in the Bible, and reaching these conversations after reading it from the very beginning is like walking into an air-conditioned room after sweltering outside. For this reason, Jesus seemed like maybe he’d be okay with female-me (more okay than all the other men recorded within the Bibles pages), and, because the bar was so very low, I liked him for that. I highlighted the parts of the gospels where Jesus sounds gentle and progressive and quite Enneagram-Type-One-ish, and I liked him for that, too. I decided that if he were around today, we’d probably share political views.

I knew, however, that others read the gospels and imagined completely different Jesuses, which, after what I’d learned about the bazillion varying approaches to the rest of the Bible, came as no surprise to me. I was aware that I was choosing the Jesus I respected most because this would allow me to hold on to the last remaining fragment of my shattered faith. I didnt know what else to do.

What really grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.
Molly Worthen, writing about Mack Driscoll
(Notice the homophobia inherent in these quotes.)

I originally wrote paragraph upon paragraph in this section, much of it outlining the reasons I don’t think that Jesus is/was God, and then deleted it all after realising I was explaining away ideas that hadn’t actually factored into my decision to be or not to be a Christian; I’d gone from documenting my experience to arguing against imaginary people. This section about Jesus will be disappointingly meagre to those who care a lot about Jesus. I do like Jesus! Still! No more than many other people, though. And not enough to build an entire faith around.

For one thing, as I mentioned earlier in this series, God was Father and Jesus was Son, and I was neither of these relationships with anyone; Jesus’ maleness – like God’s – would always be a barrier between us. Also, honestly, I was disappointed about the way he’d used his platform. Given he was God, he should have known that a whole religion would eventually be created around his teaching, right? So why not teach in a way that unvaguely called out terrible behaviour and gave instructions for living well while he had the chance? Where was the section of his Sermon on the Mount in which he cried, “Yea, verily, I say unto ye: Equality is a really big deal to me/God, okay? Stop arguing over power and BE KIND to everyone. EVERYONE! Racism is disgusting! Gender is not binary! Peoples’ sexuality doesn’t bother me, I’m not a creep! Don’t be a creep! Don’t harm people! If someone loves me/God – weird how we’re the same person, I hear ya – let them tell others about their experience! No matter their gender/sexuality/marital status! Now go forth and BE KIND PEOPLE, PEOPLE!”? It didn’t exist. Jesus had the perfect opportunity to clear up a whole lot of questions us humans had (and would eventually have) about him/God, and instead we got parables and pigs running off cliffs. 

(To be fair, the gospels were probably written at least 30 years after Jesus died, so it’s possible Jesus did say many things along these lines but no one remembered them when it came time to write it all down. Or the authors remembered such teaching but chose not to include it after considering that it may inspire their wives/daughters to go chasing an education rather than cooking dinners. Or the authors wrote it down as best they could remember it and then the scribes changed it because they didn’t want their wives/daughters, etc., etc.. Whatever the story, these are all issues that could have been ironed out fairly easily if Christians were right about Gods a) existence and b) omnipotence.)

Plus, while I liked a lot of Jesus’ teachings, they seemed no more profound than those of other teachers or philosophers or songwriters or authors I read. For example, the Golden Rule (“Do unto others…” which Jesus shares with a crowd in Matthew 7:12) – a motto I try to live by and regularly repeat to my kids – has been said in a hundred different ways by a hundred different people, religious and also not. Jesus wasn’t the only one who said cool and wise and quotable things. If I were to choose a bunch of interesting men from history to have over for dinner, Jesus would make the list, but after, say, Fred Rogers, or Nelson Mandela.

I’d let go of the concern that there was a scary afterlife, and so I didn’t buy the idea that Jesus had needed to die to save me from it. Why did he die, then? What was the point of it? Had he actually consented to it, or was he coerced into it by God the Father? Why did we celebrate his gruesome murder year after year after year at Easter, banning our children from M-rated movies but happily and regularly sharing with them the story of Jesus’ torture? Why did we still sing about blood and sacrifices each week at church? It made no sense to me; all of it seemed like we were trying too hard to uphold ancient religious traditions that were in serious need of a major update. The newer version could have room for Jesus, but which one? My “wimpy” version, or Mark Driscoll’s warrior? No one would be able to decide on one, just as no one was able to agree on what the Bible taught.

I wanted to hold onto Jesus because I knew that as long as he played a role in my faith, people would worry far less about me; you can ditch the doctrines of gender roles and/or hell, you can even ditch church, but you can’t ditch Jesus. That’s the point at which even the most open-minded Christians decide that you’ve definitely switched from In to Out and begin to cry at you. I was becoming better at listening to myself by this point, though, and doing what felt right rather than what made others happiest. I was done with pretending. I cautiously moved Jesus from my “important deities to worship” dish to my “fascinating people from the past” bucket, and then I waited for the profound sadness to kick in. I waited, and I waited some more. After a while, I admitted to myself that profound sadness was probably unnecessary and that it was official: I no longer followed Christ. I could no longer call myself a Christian.

I’d thought such news would rock me, but letting go was such a slow and careful process that by this stage it was a relief to accept that the things I’d always thought didn’t make sense really didn’t make sense, and to figure out whatif anything!came next, rather than continuing to cling to something mostly dead and hoping for it to spring back to life so that I wouldnt disappoint anyone.

I was no longer a Christian. 

The deconstruction was done. 

I felt 100% okay about both of these facts.