Can Evangelical Christianity Be Saved from Itself? An Interview with Rachel Held Evans

Source: Valerie Talerico

Emphasis Mine

Rachel Held Evans has been called “the most polarizing woman in Evangelicalism.” She is a New York Times bestselling author of three books and a popular blog in which she wrestles honestly with the cruelties and contradictions in her Christian tradition from the standpoint of a loving insider on a quest to understand God and goodness more deeply. Her most recent book, Searching for Sunday, brings readers along as Held Evans, still a self-identified Evangelical explores and embraces the liturgical ritual of the Episcopal tradition. It is a loosely connected collection of musings structured around the seven traditional sacraments of the Christian tradition: baptism, confession, communion, holy orders, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.

Tarico: My readers know me to be post-Christian, a self-described spiritual non-theist and ardent critic of the Evangelical fundamentalism in my own roots, and I write largely for an audience of secularists and former fundamentalists. So I may take some grief for this interview. But I am fascinated by your journey and your labor to create space for growth within the Evangelical tradition. What has kept you in the fold?

Held Evans: I still see value in church and Christian community. Christian community can be hurtful and wounding and cruel, but it also can do a lot of good and be healing and show a lot of grace. It can be helpful and healing. Not all churches are bad. A person can simultaneously acknowledge that the church does incredible wounding but the church can also do incredible healing. Christian people can hold both of those things to be true. People can romanticize the church and demonize the church and treat it with cynicism. As someone who tends toward cynicism, I’m trying to be truthful.

Tarico: Some fellow believers see your questioning and critique as a betrayal of Evangelicalism. But in one of your recent blog posts, “Strong enough to be self-critical: In America and the church,” you came down hard on the side of criticism as a sign of love and loyalty. You said, “Mature people and mature communities are strong enough to be self-critical and wise enough to speak the truth in love.” Are there limits on that? 

In this interview, Held Evans discusses both the book and her broader faith journey.

Held Evans: A lot of cultures set limits on how much you are allowed to ask. They encourage curiosity and questioning up to a point but your answers need to fall within a certain framework of what the answers are supposed to be, and I think I pushed up against that one too many times for some critics.

Criticism can be hard to do well, and I am often clumsy at it, but those who advocate for reform in the Church often do so out of a deep love for it. I want the Church to be a more hospitable place for LGBT people, precisely because I want the Church to grow and thrive and welcome all of God’s children through its doors. I want the Church to embrace science precisely because I want the Church to remain relevant in the world and tenable for those who shouldn’t feel like they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith. In my work, I feel it’s important hold both the good and the bad of my faith tradition truthfully, candidly. If I weren’t deeply invested, I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t speak up.

Tarico: So if not criticism, what do you perceive as the greater threat today to Evangelical Christianity?

Held Evans: I’ve long felt that if evangelical Christianity continues to align itself to a single political party, the danger will be that it will rise or fall along with that political party, that it will assume the identity of the Republican Party rather than the identity of Jesus Christ. I think we’re seeing some of the fallout from that, as Evangelicals are growing more defensive and defeatist as they lose political ground, particularly in the so-called “culture wars.” But I also see this as an opportunity for Evangelicals to have some tough but important conversations about what it means to be evangelical, to be Christian, in the U.S.

If it’s not about winning elections and maintaining power, what’s it about? Maybe it’s about loving and serving the culture rather than trying to control it.

Tarico: Anthropologist Jennifer James has called fundamentalism the “death rattle of the Abrahamic religions.” How do you see it?

Held Evans: I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt in a conservative Evangelical church with conservative Evangelical parents, and I have almost entirely fond memories of that experience. I would be very cautious of painting all fundamentalists as hateful, closed minded ignorant people. It’s just not true. I’ve seen conservative Evangelical Christians love one another in really beautiful ways. You see the whole church rally around a mom who needs chemo—making meals, taking care of the kids. I was loved very well within that tradition. My parents modeled what it means to be gracious.

I recognize that might have been different if I was gay. I’m aware that being me came with some privilege. But I am wary of painting people broadly with this brush of closed-minded judgment. That said, people do get really stuck—in patriarchal hierarchical marriages for example. Christianity has produced some destructive narratives. I criticize and talk about that because I love the Evangelical community and have incredibly strong warm feelings toward it. That’s why I care that things are not always what they should be. I wouldn’t care if I didn’t also see value in it.

Tarico: Let’s talk a little about marriage, because it seems that two of the issues you  have really wrestled with are the role of women in Christianity, and the question of dignity and equality for LGBT people, including marriage equality.

Held Evans: I don’t agree with Christians who think that what makes a marriage sacred is a man and a woman with a man in charge. What makes a marriage sacred is not conformity to social norms, not how well you fit the Ward and June Cleaver model, not patriarchal hierarchy, but the degree to which there is love and self-sacrifice like we see in Christ, in that relationship. My aim is to say that what makes a marriage sacred and special and life-giving is that mutual love and concern and giving.

Tarico: For some who criticize Evangelical Christianity from the outside, who see it as harmful, what they find most untenable is orthodox Christianity’s exclusive truth claims, the claims that are laid out, for example, in the early 20th century pamphlets “The Fundamentals” that became the basis for our term fundamentalism. Worst, maybe, is the idea that anyone who isn’t an insider is an evildoer who lacks a moral core and is condemned to eternal torture. I say worst, because this is an idea that through history has opened up all manner of mistreatment toward outsiders. After all, burning someone at the stake is peanuts compared to burning them forever. 

Held Evans: I understand why people wouldn’t want anything to do with the Church, I really do. But not everyone reduces faith to where you go when you die. Historically that has been a problem, but not every Christian has reduced Christianity to that. Not every Christian believes that everyone who doesn’t believe as they do is going to hell Christians often act like they don’t understand why people doubt. That can make us seem really detached and checked out of reality.

Something I like about the Episcopal tradition is that it focuses on the mystery of faith:Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. There are days I struggle to believe that literally, and there are days when it’s easy. But there is something unique and special about the teachings of Jesus and committing ourselves to following those teachings.

As to exclusivity, I believe people can embrace Christian belief and do Christian things without assuming that God isn’t present in other traditions or that we have nothing to learn from outsiders. I can hold my own tradition with conviction and respect and still think it possible to learn things from my Buddhist neighbors. I enjoy reading atheist and agnostic blogs and learn a ton from their honesty, for example.  We don’t have to choose between conviction coupled with strong faith identity and openness to learning from others or acknowledging their spiritual insights and shared humanity.

Tarico: Your focus on the sacraments is interesting because it strikes me as a move away from belief—from belief-ism toward a focus on practice or praxis, more akin to Dharmic traditions, like Buddhism, and more mystical traditions within Christianity itself.

Held Evans: Much of my evangelical Christianity was an assent to propositional truths. Christianity was something you believed. I’ve come to understand Christianity even more as something you do. It’s sharing communion not just around the altar but around the table. It’s anointing the sick—that’s not an effort to cure someone like a magic charm. It’s acknowledging someone else’s suffering and saying I am present and I am here and we can find god even in this. That is what it means to be Christian and a part of the church. Being in community and experiencing god in that community. The sacraments make that possible.

Tarico: When I think about what it means to be Christian, I’m struck by the bifurcation between liturgical and other traditions. It seems like the churches that have kept the traditional order of worship and liturgy have been more free to explore theologically, while for “Bible-believing” denominations, the thing that is immutable is the theology, which frees them up to be entrepreneurial about music, buildings, outreach, and the order of the worship service. So it’s like people can creatively explore the order of service or they can explore theologically – but not both. 

Held Evans: I’m still exploring why the sacraments are so powerful for me personally, but that’s part of why I was drawn to the liturgy. The culmination of the typical Evangelical worship service is the sermon—the preacher’s interpretation of the text. In a more liturgical service, the climax is the table, gathering for communion. There is something mystical and ever-giving about that. It is centered around the community. It is also something very open to interpretation and people take different things away from it.

In an Evangelical church, people will say “I didn’t feel like I got fed today” as a reference to the pastor. In a liturgical tradition you never say that, because you are fed the communion—the body of Christ. Liturgical traditions give us more space to explore belief, because what unifies us is not shared belief but shared experiences.

Tarico: Let’s talk about the Bible, the center and source of those Evangelical sermons. When I look at the Evangelical tradition I grew up in, I think that the Bible has become a golden calf. The Bible has human handprints all over it and yet people treat it as if it had the attributes of divinity: timelessness, perfection, completion. In an age of the written word, what better golden calf than a golden book? I think of it now as a form of idolatry. How do you see it?

Held Evans: What troubles me is the notion that we can somehow read a sacred text without interpreting it. People say they are just reading the text. That’s not possible. The idea that we can approach a text without bringing our imperfect often greedy often selfish selves to it. It’s crazy to think that anyone is claiming simply to take God at his word.

Tarico: So how do you think about approaching the Bible?

Held Evans: The tendency is to accuse one another of picking and choosing. Of course we do! But how do we pick and choose in a way that is healthy and life giving? What method or metric should we use for doing that? As a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, I think it’s appropriate to think of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of scripture, that in his life and death he put into practice what scripture was meant to teach us. It seems to me that I can take my cues from how Jesus interacted with scripture, which was always life giving. You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. This offers an illumination of how to approach scripture.

When Jesus was asked by experts on scripture what is the most important commandment, he said, Love the lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and all the prophets land on this. The whole point of it all is love. If we take that posture when we approach the text—To what degree does this help us love God and each other better?, that is a helpful life-giving guide. If Jesus interpreted scripture that way, that’s how I hope to interpret it.

If you are going to scripture to look for a weapon you’ll find it. If you go to scripture looking for healing balm you’ll find that too. So much has to do with what we’re looking for. If we want to use the Bible to hurt other people, we can. If we want to use it to promote healing, hope, love and grace it’s there.

Tarico: Many Christians would argue that the Bible is the final arbiter of any doctrinal dispute; you are saying that the model of Jesus is the final arbiter, the lens through which people need to read scripture.

Held Evans: I believe the Bible is authoritative in Christian life, but that we interpret Scripture through Jesus, who is the ultimate expression of God’s will for us. The notion that we experience Christ only through the pages of the Bible isn’t even biblical! We encounter Christ in communion, in the needs of people who are suffering or hungry, where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, and so on. When we care for those who are suffering we experience Christ.

God speaks to us through all of sorts of ordinary, everyday things. In a similar way God speaks to us through scripture–through imperfect words. The idea that God is too good to speak through imperfection is mistaken. God uses all sorts of everyday things to reach out to us.

Tarico: I’ve heard the natural order described as “God’s other book.” I guess that would include our experience of each other, of love, community, suffering and healing. It also includes the natural world, including the laws of physics and biology and genetics that increasingly are being unveiled by scientific inquiry. Any thoughts on that?

Held Evans: All truth is God’s truth. If something is true, then it’s true. If the universe is billions of years old and humans share ancestors with apes, then that’s the truth. God can reveal himself through science. More and more even in the Evangelical world I sense there is openness to what the natural world has to teach us. Evangelicals don’t have a great record. There has been science denialism, but I think there is common ground.

Denialism is based in fear, but we don’t need to be afraid, and in fact, this fear is such a denial of the core of Christianity. 1st John 4 says, Perfect love casts out fear. Fear is not a healthy way to view the world, and it’s not a healthy way to view and approach our faith. You cannot love God and be afraid—afraid of the world, afraid of a Bible that isn’t how we think of as perfect or afraid of new discoveries and information. Christians are called to be or do something more.

Tarico: Back when I was a college student at Wheaton, I remember reading an assigned book with the title, Your God is Too Small. I now find that even the god-concept proposed by the author seems too small, too modeled on humanity. But the title—the concept—stuck with me, as I discuss in my own book, Trusting Doubt. It seems like you are working to articulate an understanding of Christianity that is big enough to be compatible with both compassion and tradition, and what we know about ourselves and the world around us.

Held Evans: People fear this God who punishes everyone who is wrong. Really?! We’re all wrong about lots of things, even small ordinary things. When we’re talking about the nature of ultimate reality, we’re going to get some of this wrong. If I thought that God vindictively punished everyone who was wrong, I’d be afraid all the time too. (In fact, I used to live that way and I remember that fear; and it’s really nice to live differently.) Why is it hard to believe in a god who is big enough and kind enough to forgive us for being wrong?

Tarico: They say a book is out of date the moment it is in print. What are your biggest a-ha’s since you finished writing Searching for Sunday?

Held Evans: I feel that way about the other books, but not about this one yet. I’m still in theHey, World! stage. I started writing in my 20s and I’ve wondered if I would regret that. But I say to myself: Rachel, if your last book is completely different than your first book then I think that will be a completely successful life. I’m looking for readers who are waiting to evolve and come along with me. If I waited till I had it all figured out I never would write. I hope I am a different person in twenty years –that would mean I stayed open to change and humble and self-critical, which for me is part of how I aspire to grow in grace and in the love to which we are called by the model of Jesus.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author ofTrusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

 

 

 

See: http://valerietarico.com/2015/05/08/can-evangelical-christianity-be-saved-from-itself-an-interview-with-rachel-held-evans/

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Why Romney’s Mormonism Has Caused No Backlash Among GOP Faithful

From: The Beast

By:Michael Medved

“It’s too early to know whether Mitt Romney will realize his dream of becoming the first Mormon president, but he has already made history by achieving a new pluralism in the Republican Party and encouraging a more inclusive focus for the religious right.

I saw that change first hand as a featured speaker at a Battleground States Talkers Tour event in Cleveland last Thursday night. The boisterous, overflow crowd of 1,700 included a prominent portion of evangelical Christians who nonetheless cheered lustily at every mention of a Mormon named Romney, a Catholic named Paul Ryan, and the Jewish nominee for U.S. Senate in Ohio: Josh Mandel, state treasurer, Marine Corps officer, and Iraq War veteran. In conversation and book signing afterward, I met Latino Catholics, black Baptists, Eastern Orthodox believers of Serbian heritage, Irish-American cops, a smattering of Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, and dozens of observant Jews.

Had Democratic partisans or pundits from the mainstream media attended this event, they would have found it jarringly incongruent with their image of the Republican base as bigoted, benighted, and born again. Contrary to common contentions that Christian conservatism promotes intolerance and a narrow-minded insistence on biblical literalism, the Romney campaign has assembled a coalition of truly impressive theological diversity.

In fact, it’s Republicans and not Democrats who this year achieved the distinction of fielding the first-ever ticket in the history of the Republic without a Protestant candidate for either president or vice president. Prior to the nomination of Romney and Ryan, in the previous 166 years of GOP history, only one other non-Protestant represented the Republicans: Congressman William Miller, running mate for the ill-fated Barry Goldwater in 1964, who was Catholic. This year, the GOP not only broke through previously formidable religious barriers, but they did so with shockingly little fuss, bother, or even questioning comment.

As recently as this April, conventional wisdom suggested that Mitt Romney’s faith would damage his candidacy, as polls showed one out of five American voters saying they could never cast ballots for a Mormon. It turns out that many of these wary citizens may have been liberals who disapprove of the conservative social positions of the LDS Church; in rallying the religious right to his cause, Romney has encountered far less difficulty than did the previous nominee, John McCain, who was raised Episcopalian but attended a Southern Baptist church. Even Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, who made headlines a year ago by denouncing Mormonism as a “cult” while pushing Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP nomination, has become an enthusiastic supporter of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Religious conservatives have mobilized to resist changes to the status quo rather than to impose their own extremist vision of a theocratic state.

Far more significantly, the nation’s most revered and influential evangelical icon also has taken a dramatic, unprecedented role in the campaign. After meeting with Romney, 93-year-old Billy Graham told the press he would be “praying for him” and went on to place striking full-page ads in more than a dozen newspapers across the country. “As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last,” the text proclaimed beside the heroic image of Dr. Graham. “I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.” In later versions of the same ad, Graham also mentions “defending religious liberty,” another prominent theme of the Romney campaign. Though he never cites a candidate by name, Graham leaves little doubt which ticket he associates with “biblical values”—especially after the ardent endorsement of Romney by the evangelist’s son Franklin.

Even before the participation of the Grahams, Romney commanded overwhelming support from self-described white evangelicals—with polls showing he will receive up to 80 percent of their votes, outperforming McCain and approaching the levels of Ronald Reagan in his landslide reelection victory of 1984.

The question puzzling many disappointed Obama supporters would be why the supposed anti-Mormon prejudice regularly imputed to born-again believers has played so little role in this campaign.

The answer involves a basic misunderstanding of Christian conservatism by most of its critics, who fail to recognize that the rise of the religious right has been a powerful force for interdenominational unity, not for fractionalization and polarization.

Catholic clergy and lay leaders, for instance, regularly acknowledge that nothing has done more to erase anti-Catholic prejudice than the emergence of the pro-life movement after Roe v. Wade. The close cooperation of traditional Catholics and evangelical Protestants in building opposition to abortion on demand destroyed the insulting old stereotypes of hard-drinking, garlic-reeking, immigrant papists versus sweaty Bible Belt snake handlers and led both groups to new respect for one another.

By the same token, the fervent support for Israel by Christian conservatives has made them increasingly prominent in Jewish-led groups like AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and produced surging Jewish cooperation with CUFI (Christians United for Israel) and its fiery leader, pastor John Hagee. Even before Mitt Romney secured the presidential nomination, religious conservatives felt comfortable with Republican congressional leadership by the Jewish House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Catholic boss, Speaker John Boehner. Meanwhile, though evangelical Christians continue to constitute the largest single religious group within the GOP, the current five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court of the United States (John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy) all happen to be Catholics.

In a sense, the enhanced ability for faith-based conservatives to put aside their denominational differences for the sake of political goals stems from a series of challenges by the secular left and from the fastest-growing group in American religious landscapes: the “nones,” or those who claim no connection with organized faith of any sort. These unaffiliated Americans now represent between 15 percent and 20 percent of the populace. Though most of them still profess their generalized belief in God, they’ve been strongly associated with powerful movements for legalized abortion, against school prayer, objecting to religious displays at Christmastime, or the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and, most radically, for the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships.

To a great extent, religious conservatives have mobilized to resist these changes to the status quo that prevailed before the epic disruptions of the 1960s, rather than to impose their own extremist vision of a theocratic state.

For the religiously committed, the rise of secularism powerfully facilitated the cause of cooperation among fervent believers. In the Eisenhower era, nearly all Americans agreed on basic values and the beneficial impact of organized religion, embracing popular slogans like “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together” and giving top ratings to faith-based TV shows like Life Is Worth Living with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Within that consensus, interdenominational squabbling remained an affordable luxury, so that the nomination of the first successful Catholic presidential candidate in 1960 inspired far more controversy than the nomination of a Mormon this year.

In an era when people of faith of every stripe feel the force of rising doubt, disaffiliation, and militant secularism, making common cause across theological lines becomes an indispensable survival strategy.

In that spirit, the Romney campaign cites increased support from evangelicals and Orthodox Jews, while counting on reversing Barack Obama’s 2008 advantage among American Catholics as the final key to victory. Exit polls four years ago showed that 40 percent of all voters attended church or synagogue every week (or more), and another 15 percent went at least monthly. If the Republicans can continue to build their lopsided current edge with this clear majority (55 percent) of the national electorate, the final results on Nov. 6 could be far more decisive than generally anticipated.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/10/29/why-romney-s-mormonism-has-caused-no-backlash-among-gop-faithful.html

How I Left My Evangelical Christian Faith

From: AlterNet

By: Valerie Talico

“I am what you might call a slow learner. I managed to make it all the way through high school, despite an eating disorder I couldn’t pray away, and all the way through college, despite a suicidal depression triggered by the same eating disorder, and almost all the way through grad school before I finally gave up on my religion and god. 

By contrast, my friend Geoff figured things out in the second grade. One day a nun at his Catholic school tried to pour holy water on the one Black kid in the school to exorcise the devil because he kept getting in fights. But Geoff thought to himself: It’s not Satan, it’s because all the other kids pick on him. Today Geoff is a psychologist working for Seattle Children’s Hospital –which is, ironically, the same place that did in the last shreds of my Evangelical beliefs.

I can’t recall the name of the small person who severed the final strands of my faith. There’s just a vague image of soft brown hair and trusting brown eyes. I was 26, in the last stage of my PhD program, which required a year-long internship at the University of Washington. In one of my rotations, the one at Children’s Hospital, interns provided mental health consultation for families of patients on the medical wards. He was two, and in the first phase of treatment for a spinal cord tumor that would leave him paraplegic even if the nightmare course of chemotherapy were successful. I don’t know how long he survived.

Maybe it was his eyes, or his inability to comprehend why he couldn’t walk anymore, or why people who looked kind kept hurting him. Maybe it was the unbearable tenderness of his parents, who simply wanted to take their child home and love him rather than watch him suffer inexplicable months of “treatment” for a long shot at extending his life. But something inside me broke.

For years I had been patching my Christian faith together, as I like to say, with duct tape and bailing wire. My beliefs had become more and more idiosyncratic as I tried to hold together the lot of moral and rational contradictions that make up born-again, Bible-believing Christianity. Now, finally, after two decades of warping my feelings, perceptions and intellect to defend the absolute goodness of the Christian God, I got mad. I said to the god in my head, “I’m not making excuses for you anymore. I quit.” And just like that, God was gone. All that was left was the frame of tape and wire: empty excuses, rationalizations and songs of worship that sounded oddly flat.

I tell you these two stories because they illustrate two extremes of leaving faith. On the one hand you have Geoff, whose parents were casual believers and whose skepticism kicked in early. On the other hand you have me, who took things to the brink of suicide because, as I thought, if I couldn’t pray away bulimia and depression then I was a failure in God’s eyes. There are many paths into religion and many paths out.

The Damage Done

Most freethinkers were religious at one point in their lives. Whether you need a recovery process to move beyond that — and how intensive that recovery process will be — depends on what you believed, how deeply you believed it, and how much of your social support depended on fellow believers. ExChristian.net hosts forums that give people a chance to talk about their exodus from faith with support from fellow travelers. As often as not, loneliness is one of the hardest parts of the process. A believer can go anywhere in the world and find a ready-made community of fellow Christians. But a former believer can find himself or herself alone at the dinner table surrounded by family members but harboring a dark secret that would trigger rejection and judgment — if they only knew.

Ministers who lose their faith often face the worst isolation, which is why Richard Dawkins and other have launched the Clergy Project to support those who are in transition. My friend Rich Lyons is a member of the project. He had to leave his home in Texas and excavate old radio skills he hadn’t used in over a decade in order to start life over in Seattle. Questioning cost him not only his livelihood, but also his wife, access to his beloved daughter, and his small-town reputation as a decent person. Rich now produces a podcast series called Living After Faith – his way of offering a helping hand to other exiles from Christian fundamentalism.

Getting out of the church can be a complicated process — but it’s easy compared to getting the church out of you. A while back, I wrote an article titled “Getting God’s Self-appointed Messengers Out of Your Head.” I talked about a concept psychologists call “introjects.” When you are a toddler, your mobility outpaces your good sense. Left to their own devices, many toddlers would play in traffic — without even being told to. Caregivers have to provide constant external supervision. One of the ways that a toddler becomes capable of greater autonomy is that the voices of those external supervisors get internalized. The toddler brain develops what we call an introjected parent — an internal model that can say, “Don’t follow that ball into the street,” even if the real-world mother or father isn’t there. We create virtual, introjected parents (and teachers and preachers), so that even if all of those authority figures disappear we will still know how to function. But at some point having your parents along in your head is a disadvantage — say, for example, when somebody really hot has just undone the top button on your shirt.

I think of recovery from religion like peeling layers off of an onion. Dissenting intellectually from teachings or doctrines you learned as an adult is like peeling off one of the outer layers. But if you keep going, you find scripts that got laid down earlier—attitudes, emotional conditioning, ideas you were taught before you had the capacity to question them. And some of these are tremendously harmful from a psychological standpoint.

I once was speaking to a group of Hindus who wanted to understand evangelical Christianity, because rampant proselytizing was dividing their villages and splitting families down the middle. After the talk, a woman named Mohini came up to me. She asked, “Is what you told us really true — that Christians believe children are born evil?” I explained again the doctrine of original sin. She was horrified. She said, “When babies are born into Hindu families, we whisper to them: ‘You are perfect. You are a spark of the divine.’”

Last week, I was working alongside my friend Al, who is a carpenter and used to belong to a Christian commune. I asked him, “If you were talking to a group of college students about recovery from religion, what would you tell them? What would you most want them to know?” He said: “Tell them they are OK just the way they are.” Getting rid of the sense that you were born deeply, unacceptably flawed can be a lifetime endeavor.

Triggers for Leaving

Like my own experience at Children’s Hospital, many former believers experience some kind of acute trigger. Religion has an immune system made up of promises, threats and behavioral scripts that keep belief from crumbling under pressure from outside information. In Bible-believing Christianity, that immune reaction includes disparagement of rationality: “Thinking themselves wise they became fools” (Romans 1:22) or “The fool has said in his heart there is no God” (Psalms 14:1). The Bible is full of threats against the faithless, from the story of Noah’s flood to the tortures promised in Revelation. Rules for believers prohibit emotional attachments to outsiders: “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness and what communion hath light with darkness” (2 Cor 6:14).

When the religion’s immune system is working, it can seem like nothing gets through. A motivated believer will fend off any amount of linear reasoning or evidence. Backed into a corner he or she will simply insist, “I just know.” I picture some of my own family members surrounded by a polished wall of smooth steel—impervious, with no foot or handhold.

And yet, over time, life creates little windows of opening. Sometimes the trigger is unignorable hypocrisies or cruelty by church members. Sometimes it is a life crisis—a divorce, natural disaster, injury or loss of a loved one. Sometimes new social connections open up new ideas. Sometimes the accumulation of contradictory information reaches a tipping point. Bible-believing Christians, those who see the Bible as the perfect word of God, would be horrified to know how often loss of faith is triggered by someone deciding to read the good book and discovering the long litany of slavery, incest, misogyny, genocide, or scientific absurdities there.

Stages of Recovery

When the walls of faith start crumbling, people often go through a process that I think of as roughly four phases based on the dominant emotions of each stage:

1. Denial and fear. When religion has provided the structure to your life, doubt can be terrifying—especially if you’ve been taught that doubt is a sign of spiritual weakness or comes straight from the devil. In this phase, many believers redouble their efforts to shore up their faith. They may pray desperately for God to take away the doubts. Increased Bible-reading is common. So is missionary work: if you can convince others God is real, then surely it must be true. Psychologist Marlene Winell specializes in recovery from religion. For this phase of recovery, she offers clients two bits of advice that she sums up as “Get real” and “Get a grip”:

Be honest with yourself about whether your religion is working for you. Let go of trying to force it to make sense….Don’t panic. The fear you feel is part of the indoctrination. All those messages about what will happen to you if you leave the religion are a self-serving part of the religion. If you calm down, you’ll be just fine. Many people have been through this.

2. Uncertainty and guilt. At some point, doubt gains the upper hand. But that doesn’t mean the transition is over. When those final threads of my own faith broke, I kept my thoughts to myself. I didn’t believe in God anymore, so I told myself, but I didn’t want to drag anyone else to hell with me. A friend described this phase as “I don’t believe in Hell. Does that mean I’m going there?” It would take several years and several therapists after my Children’s Hospital rotation before I risked asking my brother Dan how he managed to hold onto our childhood beliefs. (I found out his beliefs were as long gone as mine.)

My book, Trusting Doubt, is particularly valuable in this phase because it digs into core evangelical teachings, showing how they can’t possibly be true. Information is powerful in helping to purge those last lingering shreds of doubt and the guilt that goes with them. Learn about yourself, the world around you and the history of your religion. Former Mormon Garrett Amini says his parents called books and articles that were critical of his religion “spiritual pornography.” Evangelicals don’t use this term, but the concept is probably familiar to anyone who has ever been a part of a sect that has to constantly fend off reality. So, read widely:evolutionary biologyanalysis of sacred textspsychology of religion, physics. Listen with open ears. The truth will set you free.

3. Loss, grief and anger. Once there’s no going back, it’s not unusual to feel bereft, spiritually, socially, intellectually and emotionally. The loss is real, even if Jesus is not. Religion offers clarity, identity, purpose, community, a channel for joy, a structure around which to sculpt the week and the calendar year. That is a lot to lose — even if your parents or spouse don’t kick you out. Grieving is important. So is anger. Anger is an activating emotion, it gives you the guts to say what is real—to yourself and to others, and to make hard changes. Christians often are taught that anger is bad, and many people will encourage you to shutter it during the recovery process. It can feel risky, too big or too out of control. But the reality is that each of our emotions has a purpose, and sometimes we need to express anger so we can learn how to take care of ourselves without it. Learning to express anger in a way that is appropriate and modulated takes practice.

When you get stuck in either grief or anger, it’s time to get help. Marlene Winell’s book,Leaving the Fold, has great self-help exercises for fundamentalists in recovery. But sometimes self-help isn’t enough. Winell offers long-distance phone consultations andRecoveringfromReligion.org is creating a referral list of mental health professionals who are able to work with clients in recovery.

4. Emergence, curiosity, affirmation. The very first ex-Christian Web site I ran across  — now almost 10 years ago — was called losingmyreligion.com. Its archive still exists, headed by the same banner it had then — a picture of a dead fish and an inscription that says: “Stay home Sundays, save 10 percent.” Just beneath the banner is this poem:

Awake

I woke up to an empty room

No more angels watching over me.
No more demons to be held at bay
by the invocation of
an Anglicized version
of a Hellenized version
of a Hebrew name

I woke up to an empty room:

Just a room. Four walls, ceiling, floor.
Just a room. Nothing more.

I woke up to an empty room
and embraced the solid air.

I woke up to an empty room and knew myself

awake.

What Comes Next?

In those wonderful interludes when you find yourself awake, the dominant emotions shift from focusing on who you were to focusing on who and what you want to be. Which values and habits from your religion do you want to keep? What do you want to call yourself? What new discoveries most excite your curiosity? What matters – really matters to you?

As a movement, atheism—freethought—secularism is just becoming strong enough to move beyond a defensive posture and beginning to ask these questions. Are there secular moral absolutes? Dare we talk about secular spiritual community? How do we build ritual, holidays and music back into our communal lives? Absent religion, how can we together express wonder and joy?

Joseph Campbell had this to say:

People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive….”

That is the quest of a lifetime.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.


Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/155155/how_i_left_my_evangelical_christian_faith?akid=8675.108242.CYiAp_&rd=1&t=5

Get the Church Out of America’s Kindergartens: Katherine Stewart

From:Bloomberg

By: Katherine Stewart

“A radical religious ideology is rapidly gaining momentum in America’s public elementary schools. Largely unbeknownst to parents, and poorly understood by school administrators, conservative groups within the evangelical Christian movement are carrying out an organized campaign to capture the hearts and minds of children and subvert the separation of church and state.

Now, the battle is moving to the New York State Senate, which is considering legislation that would effectively grant evangelical Christian groups privileged access to the state’s schools.

Only 3 1/2 years ago, I would have found such a state of affairs hard to imagine. My awakening came when an after-school group called the Good News Club set up shop offering “Bible study” in my daughter’s public elementary school in Santa BarbaraCalifornia. It rapidly became clear that the group’s aim was to convert young children and use them to spread its fundamentalist version of Christianity. The club wanted to be in the school to foster the impression among children that its religion was endorsed by the school.

Legal Armor

The club was part of a larger organization known as the Child Evangelism Fellowship. Founded more than 70 years ago, the CEF had only a small presence in public schools until 2001, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of such clubs from after-school programs represented a violation of their free-speech rights. This legal armor has given them an advantage over regular clubs that offer sports or crafts, because school administrators are now legally compelled to grant access. In 2010, there were 3,439 Good News Club groups, almost all in public K-6 schools around the country.

Among the clubs’ teachings: There is only one “right” way to live, and that is to believe in Jesus; anyone who fails to conform will go to hell. The activists I met who work with the CEF have an especially restrictive view of who qualifies as a Christian. Among the “unchurched,” they include most Catholics, U.S. Episcopalians, United Methodists, liberal Congregationalists and Presbyterians, as well as Mormons — anyone who doesn’t meet their understanding of “Bible-believing” Christianity.

Needless to say, this intolerant approach has proven highly divisive on the playground and at Parent Teacher Association meetings. Parents have reported many instances in which children tell playmates of other faiths that they will go to hell. If these folks were Islamists intending to inject their fundamentalism into America’s schools, and calling for Shariah law, I have little doubt they would be stopped. And yet what the evangelists are doing is identical in all but name.

“If you want to change the face of the planet…you want to focus on those children ages five through twelve; it is the most strategic age group that we have,” Mathew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which provides the Child Evangelism Fellowship with much of their legal firepower, said at a 2010 conference. “Knock down all of the doors, all of the barriers, to all of the 65,000-plus elementary schools in the country and take the gospel to this open mission field now! Not later. Now!”

The clubs are not the only way that evangelical Christians are getting their message into the schools, which I discovered after I moved with my family to New York. Just last week, when I joined a music class in the auditorium of my son’s school on the Upper East Side, I found myself staring at posters and other paraphernalia for the Morning Star Church of New York. The church, which turns the school into a house of worship on Sundays, uses a cordoned-off area of the stage as storage space, for which the Department of Education does not collect rent.

Storage Space

As I listened to my son sing and clap with his class, I turned over a number of questions in my mind. How much does a couple of hundred square feet of storage cost in New York? How much would it be worth to Pizza Hut to have large posters scattered around the school? How long would promotional materials for a mosque last in the same space?

In all, 160 houses of worship operate in New York public schools. They pay no rent or utilities, just a small custodian fee. Though limited to off-hours, the churches have in many instances made their presence in the school distinctly noticeable. Some have approached schoolchildren directly. Many are associated with national church-planting movements that are on the extreme end of the theological spectrum. In my children’s public school, for instance, congregants are regularly instructed to pray that America’s systems of government, education, finance, law and media will be brought under Christian control.

New York’s Board of Education has long taken a stand against religious-worship services in schools, for the same reasons that it excludes partisan political groups. In June 2011, after many years and much legal effort, the board won an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that allowed it to pursue its policy despite the 2001 Supreme Court ruling. Supporters of the church-planting movement have framed the New York court’s decision as an act of persecution and discrimination.

State legislators are entering the fray. The Senate Education Committee, with the vocal backing of Bronx City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, has approved a bill that would amend state education policy and allow houses of worship to occupy the schools. The experience of the Good News Club suggests that if this bill passes, all schools will eventually be forced to adopt churches, and taxpayers will be supporting one of the largest church networks in the state.

The Education Committee of the New York City Council is scheduled to meet today and consider whether to support the bill. If council members fail to recognize it as a threat to freedom of religion and secular democracy in America, hopefully legislators in Albany will.”

(Katherine Stewart is a journalist and author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.” The opinions expressed are her own.)

Read more opinion online from Bloomberg View.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-02/get-the-church-out-of-america-s-public-kindergartens-katherine-stewart.html

also:au4churchstateseparation.wordpress.com