I started reading Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion by Dr. Marlene Winell. I had seen it referenced by several others, but recently I’ve been stressing about some of the feelings I’ve been having as a result of moving on from christianity. Being one to look for answers, I came across this book again, so I decided to give it a go.
Throughout the book are exercises that the reader can complete in order to clarify his/her thinking on a number of issues that are discussed in the book. Following is my response to Exercise 5.1.
Take some time to review your own reasons for deciding to leave your religion…
Reason 1: Early on it was cognitive dissonance. When I left home to join the Army, I realized that many the things my church preached against were not all that bad. I had my first drink of alcohol and the world didn’t fall apart around me. I had relationships with women, some sexual, most not, and the world didn’t fall apart around me. There are other things that continued to give me cognitive dissonance throughout my adult life. Whenever the church said something and the facts didn’t match up with what they were saying, I kept the faith, but eventually these distinct items piled up so high that I left my original church in a rather heated way. In the book, Winell related the story of a man who was asking questions of his pastor, and the pastor had no logical response. The pastor finally told him to face the fact that his asking these sorts of questions were nothing more than sin, effectively cutting him off from further questioning. This is very similar to how I left my original church. I started asking questions about the specifics of the oneness pentecostal doctrine that set it apart from the rest of christianity. I sent a letter to the pastor asking him to clarify or justify some of these specifics according to the bible. After a series of email exchanges, he finally said the following at the close of his last email:
I will say again: you are making a huge carnal-minded human-will motivated mistake. No Child of God, truly submitted to the will of God, would have taken the steps away from Truth that you have taken. You’ve made decisions that, in time, your family will regret; they could even lose confidence in and respect for you.
Again, cognitive dissonance: My family seems to have more respect and confidence in me than ever before.
Reason 2: Facts and information. After leaving that church I started trying to find the right version of christianity; you know, the one that is completely in line with the bible, as close to the original church as is modernly possible, and has a direct connection to the original church. What I discovered was that there are way too many versions of christianity, and all of them differ in meaningful ways, and most of them reject the others because they aren’t teaching the truth. As this search continued, I found books about the problems with the transmission and writing of the bible, the historicity of the biblical accounts, and the archaeological finds that disprove biblical accounts. These books lead to other books about the problems with christianity itself. I realized that christianity doesn’t hold up when examined point by point. After learning all this new information there was no way I could continue to call myself a christian or believe in any of its tenets. I think it is important to point out that I wouldn’t have gone down this road if it weren’t for my incessant need to be “right”. All I wanted to do was find the truth. My main goal was to find the right church so I could be right in god’s eyes. Now from the other side of this experience, I see the real irony in it all; I was trying to find god, and in the process I lost him. It’s not that I really believe that I lost him. The truth is, I don’t see any evidence for the existence of a supernatural being of any type, and especially not the one portrayed in the christian bible.
Reason 3: Christian love. The more I think about it, the more I realize how truly unhappy I was with the relationships I had with fellow christians. They were all very flat; they were surface-level relationships with no real substance. After church, shaking hands with people I remember all the hugs and “I love you, brother”s, but when it came down to it, none of them were really interested in me as a person or my thoughts or feelings. All they cared about was what I could do for the church. After leaving both churches, only a small handful of people even checked in on me in a meaningful way. And the causes they supported weren’t really doing anything good in the world: “Let’s send missionaries to Africa to starving, homeless people, not so we can feed and clothe them, but to convert them to our religion, because their eternal soul is more important than their physical suffering…” Total BS!
There are other things I could write about that caused me to leave, but I think these were the big three. The cognitive dissonance lead me to try to learn as much as I could, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And all of this was underpinned by a need for deeper, more meaningful relationships with other people, not the flat relationships I had in the church. It’s a lot easier to see these things looking back. At the time, I was mostly feeling a great mental and psychological stress and even went into a serious depression for a while. To this day I still deal with the lingering effects of that depression. Hopefully reading this book will help me work though these issues and get me on track to get on with life.
That is all.