Saturday, November 10, 2012

Honesty About My Anger Towards Religion, the Church, and the People of Faith I Trusted

Just today, I read a blog post by Camels With Hammers, blog of Daniel Fincke over at Patheos.  He is an ex-evangelical Christian who is now an atheist.  In this post, he talks about his journey from anger immediately following his deconversion, to a place of reasonable civil discourse with the religious folk.  His post really resonated with me, because I have also gone through a similar process.  Though I am not at the point he is yet.  I hadn't really wanted to be at the point he has reached, being able to civilly discuss things about religion without lashing out and crying 'abuse!' 'abuse!' 'You're wrong, dammit!' 'Stupid!' 'Wake up!'

I am very glad for his honesty.  Here are parts of his post that really stuck out to me:

I have a fair amount of heated philosophical disputes and occasionally, if we really are digging into something contentiously, I can get fairly worked up. But I don’t typically become mean or uncivil or unpleasant. I can get loud and I can get visibly intense, sometimes even agitated, but the times where I blow up are relatively rare. Nonetheless they happen.
Oh, that I were there.
To be sure, there are a lot of philosophical, political, or ethical truths worth getting passionate about and emotionally investing oneself in. But I was still typically embarrassed afterwards on those rare occasions that I wasn’t just angry but was reduced to a frothing rage.
So, phew, I'm not the only one who has frothed at the mouth in self-righteous anger and indignancy at being lied to and suppressed all my life?  Being told that there is a thing called Hell and I'm going unless I love Jesus enough, being tortured for all eternity by a God so loving he sends people there?

He goes on to explain why being so attacking and full of rage in a discussion is actually abusive, and has been learned by being abused (here he is liking it to the abuse of religion):
Rather than learning to assert himself in ways that respect others and cultivate healthy mutual admiration and collaboration, he takes self-assertion to simply be brutally dominating and demoralizing others, physically and emotionally. Rather than coming to affirm himself positively and become independent of his abuser’s opinions and maltreatment, he displaces his rage at feeling powerless onto others, he spoils for fights in which he can vent the rage meant for his abuser, and he repeats his abusers’ ugly pattern of behavior in his own life, thereby letting his abuser live on through him, consume him, and determine his own character.
None of that is healthy. And it’s not healthy either if the sexually abused become sexual abusers, the emotionally abused become emotionally abusive, the socially abused become socially abusive, etc.
Ouch. That hit home, right to a point of truth somewhere in my conscience of my new ethical system that is forming. And common sense, of course. And decency to other humans. Have I just been repeating the abuse I learned? Here he shows how you can empower yourself to channel the anger and make a positive difference in a non-abusive verbal form:

I think a healthy and flourishing sense of power and pleasure comes from creativity, autonomy, personal independence, love, and the ability to empower others through what one does. This is because we are most powerful when we make others powerful. In these cases, their power is to that extent owed to our influence and is therefore a multiplication of our own power and an extension of it–in all of which we can justifiably take pride. By contrast, when we damage, distort, or outright destroy others’ abilities to function powerfully, this is, in most cases, only our ability to decrease the powerful, constructive, healthy functioning in the world, and that is to our ultimate discredit, on the ledger of power itself, and so it is our own ultimate loss.
He's making more and more sense. Dammit. He is being a good human being. Taming his anger into calm but powerful action without demonizing people. Oh, conscience, oh conscience, wherefore has my conscience been?
In all things we should have our enemies’ good in mind as much as possible, lest we become them, and thereby fall into the dialectic of abuse, according to which we confuse power itself to be the ability to hurt others in perversely satisfying ways that express displaced, sublimated, uncontrolled rages given to us by our abusers.
Sounds suspiciously like a Jesus teaching.  But it is a good teaching that is emphasized in most religions. The Golden Rule was actually around before Jesus anyway. For lack of a better source right now here's your answer.  For a comical version of the history of the Golden Rule, the Friendly Atheist has a comic version.  So, ok. He's starting to overcome my indignant ego.

However, it comforted me that he said THIS:

In more vulnerable and more emotionally immature days, if my only psychologically realistic choice was between lashing out to defend myself or feeling disempowered, then it is for the better that I went through this “lion” stage, this liberatingly defiant “no-saying” stage of personal development. If I really needed this to be the rebellious, self-discovery stage that I missed as an overly obedient adolescent and to extricate myself from a deceitful and manipulative religious institution, then sobeit. And, I get it when others, in the process of liberating themselves from their own demons, go through this dark stage of lashing out. I don’t begrudge them this, even as I encourage them, like I encourage myself, to extricate themselves as much as possible from the abusers’ dialectic as they can and never turn their abusiveness itself into a point of pride or principle or identity or indifference. It’s for many an unfortunately unavoidable dialectical stage of growth, but one to overcome and outgrow.
I am comforted because I also recognize that I went through this very roaring "Lion Stage", even rage, to separate myself clean-cut from the church and the faith. To have a bit of righteous anger.  Leaving the church and the faith shattered my worldview.  I realized I was extremely ignorant in science, politics, injustice, and reason.  I felt liberated, believe me, but dismayed at the amount of fearmongering, censoring tactics, and sheltering from the 'world' that was absolutely a way to keep me from losing faith.  Reading this post hit home for me and inspired me to really work on my anger and turn it into something good for the benefit of others.  My puddle of rage has now been freezing into a solid bitterness, and it is time to move forward.  I wrote a response to him in his comment section, and then decided to blog about it because I want to be honest about my struggles with deconversion.  It has been and still is a rather sharp rocky road but is getting better.

 Here is my response:
Dan,
I have been reading your blog for a few months. I came out of a missionary evangelical family and community only five years ago. At first I was so angry, (“frothing rage” as you perfectly put it) that I couldn’t even talk about Christianity, or listen to family members and friends say the word “God, Jesus” etc, without dialing into a violent, bitter rant, at being fooled and duped for so long. I too have felt completely justified in my triggered outrage. It has dialed down a bit, since finding the world of atheist/skeptic/secular blogs that show me I am not alone. When I first discovered your deconversion series, I was indignant at your calmness, and calls for civility. I still am, sometimes. I completely felt justified and self-righteous about attacking others’ faith and superstitions.
I want to thank you. Especially for this post. I am being forced to think about my ethical values and behavior, and the possibility that I have used rather abusive techniques and words to figuratively punch someone in the face, demanding they wake up, listen to me, because they are in the wrong, blinded, and duped. It is a righteous anger for justice and truth, but I have let myself become vehemently bitter and unforgiving towards those I had trusted my entire life. I have quite a temper. I am coming to respect the calmer discussions. I also am recognizing that yes, my lashing and anger was a stage I needed to go through to rid myself of the indoctrination in my life and not fall back in response to guilt or fear of Hell if I was wrong. But I want to move beyond the anger and bitterness that has eaten me alive, and I appreciate your points of view and calls for civility and well articulated responses to misinformed, hateful power-attacks from the other side.
Thank you, thank you for your honesty.
I also would like to add that I have felt a need for self-satisfactory revenge upon the church and abusive teachings. Revenge. Ah, it sounds so sweet. But it has not enabled me to dissipate the bitterness, the anger. I am realizing the best revenge is to rise above the hateful attitude of religion, and to live a free, happy life, and hopefully being able to calmly reason with those I love to show them that discourse and skepticism is a good, healthy way of attaining freedom from fear of eternal Hell.
I am moving forward. Slow pace, maybe, but reading posts like this, and others in the atheist blogosphere is helping me to grow and broaden my mind to rational discourse and reason.  I am getting better, but there is so much to learn, as I was in a bubble of lies so long.

I still invite anyone to follow my journey here. Don't run away, I'm not a monster, I promise. I care about truth and justice, and compassion for fellow human beings that I refuse to give up on.