You walked away from church, Now What?
Accepting that religion sucks
For my purposes, I define religion as any system of beliefs, rituals, and/or behaviors which an individual uses to feel that they have control over the uncontrollable things in their world and/or which they believe following gives them special favor with their version of god or whatever force controls the universe.
The problems with all religions stem from how people in the religious system view and treat those outside the religious system AND how they control people in the system.
Of course, this is simplistic and overgeneralizing thousands of years of religious history, but I have found this understanding of religion very helpful in analyzing what it is I hate and want to avoid.
2. Owning Your experience of how much religion sucks
I actually think it is a very healthy exercise to start a journal of things that you have seen in church or religious culture (like Christian schools) and list all of the crap that you hate. I promise it is OK. If you still believe in God or wonder if there’s a God out there, tell God how horrible all the stuff you’ve seen is and how angry, hurt, bitter, sad, and hopeless those things have left you.
The list of things you want to avoid is incredibly important, because being a good person is harder than it seems. I hate judgmentalism when it’s applied to me and people I care about, but I sure am good at it when it comes to people who disagree with my politics and stance on issues of justice. I want to avoid all the other pitfalls of religion so I try to constantly guard against the things I’ve seen.
3. Resources to help you
If you take only one piece of advice from me, let it be this: Read With by Skye Jethani and Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown.These two books changed my life!
With by Skye Jethani- was the start of my journey away from religion. Before reading this book, I would have freely said Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus not a religion. However, as I read, I realized I was caught up in a religious relationship where I felt God owed me certain things for sacrifices I made and things I believed strongly. When certain things went wrong in my life, I felt unjustly wronged. The glaring truth I had to confront was what my beliefs meant for other people and their suffering. If I didn’t deserve bad things because of how I lived, did that mean others did deserve bad things? Obviously, I needed to work through some wrong beliefs I had! This book was the beginning of my journey to actually being free from religion and walking in a relationship with Jesus.
Through Braving the Wilderness, I realized I had been desperately seeking true belonging by fitting in with religion but denying who I really am. As a result of religious shame, I constantly wrestled with insecurity, depression, and anxiety. Jesus warned that hypocrisy (denying who we really are) is a terrible evil like yeast which corrupts everything it touches. Hypocrisy is a by-product of shame and shame is rampant in our church cultures. This book helped me define it and recognize it in my life. I completely believe everything Jesus taught was to free us from the shame cultures of religion. Unfortunately, my experience with the Bible was so wrapped up in the religious shame culture, I needed this resource to help me identify it.
4. Give yourself time to process all of this
It is important to unpack or deconstruct all of the things wrong with religion. This is a long, daunting, emotionally charged task. It crosses into family relationships, culture, our sense of belonging and identity, and virtually everything about us and how we relate to the world. It is a life long endeavor.
5. My journey includes recognizing that jesus frees us from religion
I make no attempt to hide my belief in Jesus. He stood against all of the things that suck about religion. In his ministry, he constantly confronted the religious elite for their hypocrisy and he elevated the non-religious and the social outcasts.
He constantly told his followers he was starting something new. Something so new and different that we can’t handle it without help. Jesus demonstrated how to free ourselves from religion and make the world a better place through caring about people and desiring the very best life for everyone we encounter.
6. REad the New testament for yourself
Jesus’ message of freedom seems to be barely discernible in the sea of religious culture surrounding his teachings. I believe if you read the New Testament like you’d read any literature, you will be amazed at how freeing Jesus’ teachings really are. Look at the historical context, the purpose of the writing, the author, the audience, and read the stories in context, and look up the original meanings of key words. All of these practices take time, but they will show you a path worth following with your entire life.
For example, though Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek,… the merciful, …and the peace makers” (Matthew 5) and that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter God’s kingdom (Mark 10, Matthew 19) American church culture has religiously explained away these teachings in bizarre twisting which promotes the opposite.
Jesus taught the opposite of What Many American churches teach
What Jesus taught: What we often see in church culture
Blessed are the Poor in spirit** Arrogance about how correct one’s beliefs are
Blessed are those who Mourn Always being happy shows how great your faith is
Blessed are the Merciful Condemnation of all who disagree with them
Blessed are the Peacemakers Bullying of people outside church & denial of problems inside the church
Against wealth and greed Wealth is a blessing for the faithful
And that’s just the beginning! The New Testament is full of stories of Jesus confronting religious hypocrisy and freeing us to deal with who we really are.
So, if on your journey away from religion, you’d like to read about a fellow rebel who hates religion, you will love the stories of Jesus.
Embrace the adventure my friends! I’m cheering for you!
*So…I don’t know about the whole gender of God thing, cause uhm God is God and all. I’m pretty sure God just isn’t like us so…I’m just used to saying “him”. I think what is probably most accurate is never using a pronoun because God isn’t an us, him, he, she, or, it… but that makes my writing really awkward.
** The Greek word for poor means poverty at the level of begging. The phrase poor in spirit refers to realizing that you have nothing to offer God. I mean, if he created the universe, how arrogant do we have to be to think we are impressing him with our rule-keeping?