Fugitives from Fundamentalism

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

Crutch Evolution

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on December 2, 2009

As far back as I can remember, the Christian communities I have been a part of have always been sensitive to the charge that their religious beliefs are a crutch for the emotionally weak. Even before I had heard a non-Christian make this assertion, I heard it introduced and rebutted in a Christian setting on numerous occasions. I have always wondered if the Christian hypersensitivity to, and fixation on, this charge was indicative of a truth within it. However, I eventually decided that all humans need crutches, so it seemed like a meaningless claim. Also, I know from my own observations and discussions with Christians that, as individuals, they believe for different reasons. Or maybe a better way to put it would be to say that they are drawn to, or kept in, Christianity by different approaches to the religion that focus on different aspects. For some, it is obvious that the emotional fix they get from worshiping and singing is something they are addicted to and could not live without. For others, who might even look down on those who make “spiritual love” to Jesus in church, it is the unassailable logic of the NT story and the Bible’s explanation for how the world and humans function that appeals to them. Essentially, people find in religion what they are looking for in the first place.

As I said, we all need crutches. I am definitely no exception to this rule. When I stripped myself of my Christian worldview, I lost my crutch. I had relied on it often. I used to send up little prayers throughout the course of each day–things like, “Dear God, please help me focus so I can do my best on this test.” You know, the usual run-of-the-mill prayers that express one’s wishes for life more than anything else. They also provided little emotional releases. They were ways of verbalizing, and by extension acknowledging and validating, my thoughts and feelings concerning my everyday life.

So where could I now go for this form of personal therapy? Well, I am still figuring that one out. Here is a glimpse into the process of finding this outlet that continues to this day…

On the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator personality test, I am all the way to the extreme side of introversion. This personality trait of mine is something that might have given me the personal space or wiggle room I needed to escape from the belief-paradigm of Christianity that had been imposed on me. Still, despite this introversion, despite the fact that being around more than just a few people for any amount of time leaves me drained and mentally exhausted, I have a very strong desire for what Christians call “fellowship” and what the rest of us call “hangin’ out.”

As a result, I continued to seek the company of my Christian friends — just not in church. But this soon led to problems. For instance, I started to take offense at my friends’ off-hand and false assumptions and statements about non-believers. I am someone with a lot of nervous energy, who is not at all afraid to say what I think and why, and my introversion means that I am much less likely to consider the affects of my assertiveness on the people I disagree with. Add to this mix a Christian saying negative things about my worldview, so that I feel persecuted, and I go on the attack. This would inevitably lead to my pointing out the silliness of Christian beliefs. One conversation I remember, one that basically killed a friendship with a long time friend of mine, ended with my asking, “Do you honestly believe that Noah could fit the millions of species on this planet into his little boat?” I was incensed that my friend had said, after I explained that I was an agnostic (back when I was), “Well, that is certainly more palatable than atheism! [Followed by another negative comment about atheists.]” I felt impelled, as if it was the most important thing in the world, to make him see that what he believed was the stuff of childhood fantasy — that it was just plain stupid to believe the miracles in the Bible. He was the fool and not vice versa! After this conversation — he responded by saying, “I haven’t really thought about it” — the invitations to his house for meals and to his kids’ birthday parties abruptly stopped.

Just prior to this, I had been in graduate school, where my need for solidarity with others was focused entirely in a university setting. My fellowship came from class discussions, my fellow students and colleagues, and the internal dialogues I was having with the authors I read. I had almost no contact with my old friends. When I did, I was so thoroughly stuck in argument-style, research-paper mode that I only knew how to interact with people as if I were debating an assertion with them. I would be remiss if I left out the final component of this potion of alienation: alcohol. As my life accelerated and my schedule remained full from morning till night 7 days a week, I started to spend what little free time I had undergoing an accelerated form of relaxation. To put it bluntly, I spent my free evenings drinking wine. I was so “on” all the time, from taking classes, to teaching them, to writing papers, to working on committees, etc., that I was instantly drawn to the instant gratification alcohol provided. I could be unwound by the end of the first glass.

As graduate school ended and my career began, my focus inward and my nightly drinking increased. My long days of teaching, reading and writing were followed by short evenings into which I shoved the consumption of a full bottle of wine — regardless of whether that full bottle fit in the allotted time. Four hours before bedtime? One bottle of wine. Only one and a half hours before bedtime? One bottle of wine. Only a half hour before bedtime? Time to move bedtime to a later time — oh, and one bottle of wine. As I look back on this period in my life, I see myself looking for some solidarity with other humans and I found it in an unlikely place: a forum on MySpace made up of MKs from my alma mater. It is here that I met Paulo (or re-met him) and several of the people who hang around this blog from time to time. Unfortunately, this was not the best place for me to go, especially considering my new binge drinking habit. Things started out in a promising fashion, and I even started out by posting a nuanced and conciliatory entry on the abortion issue. Things soon devolved, as the more strident and aggressive Christians on the forum began to reactivate my dormant, argument-style, research-paper mode. Coupled with a bottle of wine, well –let’s just say that very few trees were left standing after I scorched the earth. And what did it accomplish? A few positive things came as an indirect result of it — a friendship with Paulo, for instance, but for the most part it was overwhelmingly negative. I do not look back at that time with any pride or positive feelings.

My scorched-Earth tactics meant that I eventually had to leave that online forum, and this site was birthed as a result. I have since quit drinking that nightly bottle of wine, and I am a much better man for it, but I have still struggled with how to interact with Christians. I have a sense that the answer lies in making this site more about dialogue and less about monologues.

The crutch must evolve…

Over the past year or so, I have slowly started to learn (I do learn things slowly) that most times the argument doesn’t matter. To quote a wise man I recently met, “People won’t care what you have to say until you show them that you care.” There are ways I could try to reframe that statement, to make it less true. For instance, I could say, “What if I don’t care? Then I can just go ahead and say what I was planning on saying without all of the rigmarole.” But the truth is that I wouldn’t say anything at all if I didn’t care. In fact, my problem is the exact opposite: I care too much. I care to the point that I can become quite overbearing if I think my point is being missed or misunderstood. Of course, I already know all of this stuff intellectually; it’s applying it to my life that gives me the trouble.

But the reason I am writing all of this is because I keep coming back to the same problem I have with this blog. I originally set it up as a repository for those of us who left the faith and are tired of having to repeat the same things to people whenever they find out we are no longer Christians. The site still serves that purpose, but, at least from my perspective, I don’t have much else to say on the issue. Looking back over the posts, I can see that just about every Christian argument has been exhaustively rebutted — so often, in fact, that the site is beginning to get repetitious. As a result, I am a bit confused about where to go now with this site. At the very least, I want to leave it up as a resource. But I think it can and should be more than that; I just can’t figure out what. I have tried two different solutions so far. Close to a year ago, I set up a sister site, The Sisyphean Life, that I meant as a constructive, world-view centered blog meant to discuss philosophy and intellectual thought outside of the Christian realm. I decided there was no reason to have a separate blog for that, when we could just as easily post the same types of blog entries here.

I think what bothers me the most about this blog is its lack of originality. There are so many atheist and agnostic sites online, especially since the arrival of the unholy New Atheists like Dawkins, to the point that it feels like a cliché. More recently, I made a few changes to emphasize the MK aspect of the blog, with this in mind. Still, I did it half-heartedly, and the addition of Jerry as a contributor (who is not an MK) made me realize that narrowing the focus of the blog could only hurt it.

So I am turning to you, my few but faithful readers and fellow contributors. What can be done to assuage my concerns? What are your ideas about the direction of this blog? Where should it go? Should it even go anywhere?

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10 Responses to “Crutch Evolution”

  1. stephy said

    i don’t know that it has to go anywhere. i just like reading everyone’s thoughts…

  2. Paulo said

    I think the best posts so far have been about our personal thoughts and experiences. I suspect people would like to read more about that. Eventually I would like to bring myself to do more of that kind of writing. It’s hard, though, because it doesn’t come naturally to me. That’s my two cents anyway.

  3. Charity said

    I like the blog. Being open to expressing personal stuff outside of one’s circle of friends makes for interesting reading. I’m in a process of finding ways to express myself that I feel comfortable with, and writing on this blog has been a good experience. It helps me work through my thoughts by writing about them, and I can edit as they develop.

  4. Jerry said

    I think the blog has helped me feel less isolated from people and to remind me that I’m not crazy simply because I don’t worship the cross of Jesus anymore. There is a common sense I get when I talk to people who are not just atheists, but who have had a similar childhood or early adult experience of being fundamentalists. I feel fortunate to have left the insanity of fundamentalism, but I know that many of my old friends are still wedded to it. I find it more interesting when people reveal important aspects of their lives, such as your struggle with alcohol (which sounds incredibly similar to mine when I was at seminary).

    • The Chaplain said

      A drinking seminarian?! We could have had some good drunken conversations back then! By the way, it is clear to me that your drinking led to your lack of faith. Alcohol is made from the devil’s fruit, as you know.

  5. The Chaplain said

    I’m glad I asked! So the consensus appears to be that more personal narrative type of writing (in some form) is preferable. I would have to agree with that. My favorite posts so far have been ones that combine personal narrative, moving towards a more general assertion. Brandt’s essay, “I’m Better Than You” immediately springs to mind, and browsing back through the archives I would have to say that we have a decent number of that style of posts on this blog. Suddenly, I’m feeling much better about the site. Sometimes, when a few weeks go by and I still can’t think of anything to write, doubt starts to creep into my mind. Thank you my brothers and sisters for restoring my faith.

    • The Chaplain said

      I meant to end that last sentence with an emoticon that expresses satiric mischief, but only the laughing devil face came close enough.

  6. Ann said

    “For some, it is obvious that the emotional fix they get from worshiping and singing is something they are addicted to and could not live without… Essentially, people find in religion what they are looking for in the first place.”

    Why isn’t it enough to “fellowship” with friends and family instead of praying to Jesus who’s somewhere in the sky or another dimension or somehow, inside of us? Why not fall in love with a good ol’ fashioned living human being instead of an alien being? But I understand for some people, Jesus is their lover and this love gives them meaning. For spiritual lovemaking, below is the kind of Praise and Worship music played in mainstream Christian churches all across America every Sunday:

    Wait, there’s more…

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