Maintaining Contact with an Abusive God

It never ceases to amaze me how clueless and profoundly misguided are the comments of religious believers about their deeply held religious beliefs. I understand the forces at work and the processes that they go through in order to get to their desired conclusions. (That, in fact, is the core of the problem. They have desired conclusions.) I used to be one of them, so I can 100% empathize. And still…

I’m so glad that this is no longer my normal. I would much rather live in the real world than inside a sociopathic delusion. I would much rather have honest, open conversations than to always be on the defensive, as I was before. I think that people who have never lived inside fundamentalism don’t realize how stressful it is. As a fundamentalist, you know how stupid you sound, and you’re constantly fighting yourself in order to make yourself feel better about taking on this stupidity as part of your core identity.

At least I knew how stupid I sounded. But I set that concern to the side. There were two of me: the part that defended the dogma, and the part that searched for truth.

We are all a chorus of competing voices. What I remember as an Evangelical was that some of these voices absolutely were telling me how ridiculous my beliefs were. But I had been trained to gag those voices and turn up the volume on the other voices that were lying to me. I also saw evidence that other Evangelicals felt the same way. A simple example is that Evangelicals feel a need to silence atheists. Someone who is comfortable and confident in what they believe doesn’t need to shut down others in public spaces.

That said, there was a part of me that absolutely did believe in God. Even more than that, I believed that God could take care of himself and didn’t need my help to defend him against the truth. Ironically, that was my exit-ramp from the religion.

Talking with a fundamentalist is incredibly frustrating, because you can’t have an adult conversation with them. And when you try, more often than not, your conversation is just going to go around in circles, because they are pathologically unable to give direct answers to simple questions that make them feel uncomfortable. And the memes in their world prepare them to engage in a host of dishonest strategies to protect themselves from the truth.

It’s incredible—and I’m not the only person who has mentioned this… It’s incredible that any of us escape. Yet some of us do escape. Little bits and pieces of truth sneak through the barriers of fundamentalist apologetics. And the cognitive dissonance piles up to the point that we can no longer stand it, and we finally give in to the simple logic of the situation.

Aside from being very frustrating, it also can be quite triggering to those of us who have escaped that oppressive world. When I engage with an Evangelical, the first thing that invariably happens is that they brain-dump a host of convoluted, meaningless, incorrect, hateful, demeaning apologetics on to me. And my first job is to sift through that garbage heap of manipulation and pick one and only one point on which to challenge my interlocutor. Challenging them is fairly simple. All I have to do is to cite any one of a hundred real-world examples that contradict their dogmatic claim. And generating those counterexamples is pretty damn easy.

But this process can be very stressful for the former Evangelical. Having to confront that mountain of rhetorical garbage, it feels like the mountain is falling on you. We used to call this “being convicted by the Holy Spirit.” But there is no actual Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what happens inside of your own feelings. Being convicted of the Holy Spirit is a trauma reaction. And it doesn’t just disappear simply because you know through good, epistemologically sound evidence and reasoning that these stories are fiction. It’s like having spent decades actually believing that you live at Hogwarts and then being told that the Dementors are after you. You know it’s just a fictional story, but the emotional reaction that you experience is real. This reaction was programmed into the Evangelical by a theology of negging and then enhanced through continual spiritual gaslighting, every single week, in prayers, sermons, and songs, and sometimes multiple times a week. Week in, week out, for years or decades. Just like any other emotional abuse victim who has left the abusive relationship, it takes time, sometimes a long time, to work through all the layers of emotional programming that the abuser had put in place and now needs to be reprogrammed.

I have resisted unfriending or unfollowing Evangelical former friends, who I rarely if ever talk to anymore. They almost never comment on my timeline, and more often than not, I don’t even want to read theirs. And on the rare instances when one of them has commented, their comments are so ignorant and ill-informed, I need to do damage control just to set the conversation straight. Fundamentalism literally makes you stupid, because it cuts you off from knowledge and ideas that would inform you of where your dogma is incorrect. I honestly don’t know why I still keep them around. It’s like an abuse victim keeping contact with their abuser. It’s stupid. For the first time in 5 years, I’m seriously considering another broad Facebook cleanse.