Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Atheism’s "Rage Stage"

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on August 15, 2008

Moving from belief in the supernatural and the specific deity of Jesus to a world view of free thought and rationality is a process. Like any process, it can be examined and certain similar features reappear regardless of the specific individual undergoing the process. My wife left the Christian faith a few years after I did (not that she could ever be defined as a hardcore born-again believer—still, she did believe in the existence of the Judeo-Christian God), and I noticed that one stage in her process of moving from faith to disbelief paralleled one of my own stages. This particular stage in the process was typified by outrage at the Christian faith and those who practice it. During this stage, my wife and I would say things like, “Can you believe that Christians make people feel guilt by teaching them that…!!” “I can’t believe I was so hung up on this belief! It really damaged my growth…” “What bigots Christians are for thinking that…” “Can you believe that such and such Christian leader said…” Subsequently, I labeled this part of the process towards disbelief “The Rage Stage.”

The Rage Stage is not a pleasant place to occupy; it is Death Valley, not the Lake District. It is a stage where a former believer has escaped enough from the Christian framework for viewing the world to be able to turn a critical gaze upon that framework. For the first time, the ex-believer can see the irrationality of many Christian beliefs. More frighteningly, the ex-believer can see the harmful effects of living a life focused around beliefs and thoughts that are utterly false. For myself, I began to recognize Christianity as the source of my neuroses and feelings of guilt. I never even had to do anything wrong; I just felt guilty around authority figures. The other negative effects of false beliefs are too numerous to list: a puritanical and repressed attitude towards sex and one’s own body, a hyper-focus on the faults of others, a hyper-fixation on appearances and a neurotic obsession with making sure that one doesn’t look “bad” in front of others, a concern that Satan is reading one’s thoughts and purposely designing temptations that cater specifically to one’s weaknesses, etc., etc… I equated The Rage Stage with Death Valley because it is an awakening to what was previously hidden: the negative in Christianity. It is not exactly healthy to spend day after day feeling outrage about being brainwashed as a child to believe things that are ridiculous.

The fact that I saw my wife experiencing The Rage Stage led me to believe that I no longer occupied this position in the process of moving away from faith. I was wrong. I discovered how wrong I was when I began participating in a MySpace discussion group whose members were missionary kids who had attended the same Conservative Baptist boarding school I did. Although my contributions to the forum were at first polite and fair-minded, I began to lose my cool when some members vociferously defended slavery, sexism and homophobia in the Bible. Their faith made it impossible for them to admit that anything in the Bible, even slavery, was wrong. Like the Christians who took to the stand in the Intelligent Design trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, these members were willing to lie, distort facts, and twist contexts to achieve their objectives of defending their Christian “our team” mentality. As a result, I began to lose sight of these people’s humanity. They began to appear as “types.” Specifically, I saw them as bigots, homophobes, ignoramuses, fools and weak-minded sheep. I told them as much. The common ground we all share as humans no longer existed. This is never good.

To this day, I view Christianity as more harmful than positive. I think that any type of belief in a falsehood has the potential to lead to disastrous decisions and outcomes. I cannot claim to have completely left the Rage Stage. However, I think that I have moved a lot closer to a new stage in my process towards a worldview based on reality and truth, and I have recently taken drastic action to propel myself forward in this process. In “Why Atheism and Morality Are Not Incompatible,” Nathalie Kustcher writes, “Atheism is an opportunity for those who act from fear to rise above fear and consider their fellow human beings as part of the human race and entitled to the same treatment oneself would expect from others.” This sentiment reminded me of George Eliot’s concept of “fellow feeling” or sympathy for others stemming from our shared humanity. Intellectually and emotionally I embrace these ideas, and it is my desire to fully inhabit them in my day-to-day life.

I don’t know if I will ever view a Christian who defends slavery or thinks gays are abominations to be a swell person with great things to contribute to society. For those Christians among you who find this statement shocking, try to imagine how you would interact with someone who was overtly racist during the Civil Rights movement. This racist individual would vote only for segregationist politicians who make sure to maintain the oppressive societal structure and Jim Crow laws. This racist individual would also, on occasion, casually reveal that racism through comments and general observations about society and life. Sure, you would be polite and respectful, perhaps you might even kindly object to something this person says. However, I doubt that you would spend that much time with this person in a non-work-related setting. To me, there is no difference between this and the evangelical Christian attitude towards homosexuals. Sure, I’ll be polite to you, but I’m going to object when you talk about how sensible you are for being a bigot. Still, I can admit that that Christian is a human like myself. That Christian shares with me similar flaws, hopes, desires and fears. I know that is our common ground despite all other differences.

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3 Responses to “Atheism’s "Rage Stage"”

  1. SEA said

    “Atheism is an opportunity for those who act from fear to rise above fear and consider their fellow human beings as part of the human race and entitled to the same treatment oneself would expect from others.” I actually think this statement could have also come from the mouth of a Christian… minus the atheism part. As a Christian, I believe that b/c Adam chose to disobey God, we now live in a fallen world and obviously everyone of us sins. we sin constantly. this doesn’t cause me to be paralyzed with guilt. it gives me a sense of freedom to know that no matter how much I disobey God and blatantly turn away from him, He will always forgive me and loves me unconditionally. If anything, a Christian should understand that we are all equals and that we are entitled to the same treatment that we would want for ourselves. Jesus did come to save ALL of us after all… not just some. that is what the gospel is all about… we are all screw ups and we do struggle with the world we live in… with our own bodies, with others, with our own thoughts, etc. Any Christian that is homophobic or defends slavery or whatever, obviously doesn’t understand the gospel. Jesus came and died so that we are reconciled and justified and able to be in God’s presence some day. which is amazing! to think that i will get to be in god’s presence is awesome. and it’s not because of anything i can do or have done… only god’s grace. there are a lot of people that claim to be Christians who I think are not what I would consider a true Christian. But also just like you have been hurt and offended by some Christians… I am sure that as a Christian I have done the same thing to non-Christians. I claim to be a Christian, but every day I do unChristian-like things. I am hateful and hurtful and selfish, etc etc etc. I am sure I’ve done horrible things that nonChristians have seen and said “Sheesh, Susan is a big jerk and yet she claims to be a Christian”. they are right, i am a big jerk and i probably always will be b/c even though God calls us to be Christ-like (and yes we should strive to be that), it will never happen in this life. but now i am babbling… or i have been babbling the whole time. but i like this blog and that is makes me think about why i believe what i believe. i’m sure i will be responding to other posts and that we will have some discussions that will be interesting. i am not a theologian and my understanding of my faith is probably pretty simple, but this is fun. Christians rule, atheists suck! hahahaaha… oh my i am soooo funny.

  2. Joel said

    I think that even people who haven’t “left the faith” can relate to these experiences. At least I can.

  3. Ann said

    “My wife left the Christian faith a few years after I did (not that she could ever be defined as a hardcore born-again believer—still, she did believe in the existence of the Judeo-Christian God), and I noticed that one stage in her process of moving from faith to disbelief paralleled one of my own stages.”

    That’s not true. Although you did let go altogether of the idea of a higher power before me, I stopped believing in a Judeo-Christian God my final year of high school. I remember going through a transition from believing there was an actual entity, a God in heaven that defines who I am, to a more vague notion of a higher power that wasn’t linked to any particular religion. An intelligent cosmic force or energy connecting people.

    I didn’t go through the same kind of “Rage Stage” as you, but, yes, I did have to work through a lot of anger (and sadness). Even saw a therapist while I was working on my MA. I still get angry when I see the real world application of religion and how it negatively effects people and societies. But I guess I’ve got this empathy for people in general, always have, that keeps me from retaining anger on the occasion someone pisses me off. I’ve been told by a couple of therapists this is unusual–even had a personality assessment done to help figure myself out. Ha!

    Most people get angry often and hold on to a lot of their anger. It’s normal to harbor resentments, especially from childhood. Sometimes unconsciously. Congruence is difficult for everyone. We can say, “I’ve let go”, or make other statements about ourselves and others, but it’s quite another thing to apply our ideas to our everyday experiencing. Self-concepts frequently don’t match reality.

    As much as I can tell, my anger at people is typically replaced by sadness, sometimes overwhelming. Having a good sense of humor helps. There is a lot of suffering in the world, and I understand Christians suffer too. What’s depressing is how much of suffering is human created and avoidable (though suffering will always exist as long as humans exist). Religion has a big role to play in it, both for those who believe and for those who don’t. From my side, religion seems to be primarily an oppressive force in the world.

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