• Marie Thearose

Losing Faith When Others Hurt You

There seems to be a trend of devaluing doubt that arises from the psychological and emotional aspects of faith, in particular hurts one experiences as part of a religious community. But if faith involves the whole person, then doubts can and do arise from more than the mere intellect. But we tend to interpret those types of doubts as less worthy reasons to leave one's faith. When someone is hurt by the actions of others there are quips of "That wasn't real Christianity," or, "This just proves that we all fall short and need Jesus." (Interestingly, when people from another religion behave poorly Christians often use that as "proof" that that religion is invalid, but when it happens within their own ranks it just reinforces beliefs about human depravity).

I guess what I'm trying to get at is, if I say part of why I lost my faith is because of the actions of others that hurt/angered/saddened/betrayed me, that's seen as an invalid reason, since it doesn't deal with the truth claims of the religion. But it doesn't feel invalid, it feels very natural and necessary. The painful or abusive actions of others wound and cause people not to want to be part of a group, and while that doesn't disprove the claims of the religion itself, it does cast a dark light on it. If the actions of others didn't influence our ability to find or lose faith, then there'd be no point in our faith communities. Religion is not an entirely intellectual exercise, thank God, but it seems that the only legitimate reasons to lose religion are intellectual only. I can convert because I felt a warm stirring in my soul, but if my soul feels arid and parched and wounded, that's not a reason to leave.

That's not to say people won't give you grief for your intellectual doubts; they most certainly will, particularly anti-intellectuals who say you think too much and should just pray. I've met my share of those. But it seems like as an ex-Christian, ex-evangelical, ex-fundie, whatever part of the spectrum you're on, in order to be taken seriously you have to be coolheaded and unaffected, otherwise some Christians just say you're hurt and have a chip on your shoulder. It's like a bait and switch. You can come to the Christian faith because of the emotions it produced in you (a sense of peace, belonging, rest, hope, acceptance) but you can't leave it because your emotions are not trustworthy (your heart is deceitful above all things, after all).

It's also assumed that your woundedness makes you unfit to critique a religious movement or doctrine. In reality, it gives people insight: insight religious leaders are usually uncomfortable with because it upends the status quo.

It's like the religion-it's traditions, doctrines, holy books, leaders-has a knife in your back. And with each word or action they twist it more and more. The reality of the knife doesn't prove or disprove the claims of the religion, but damn it's extremely difficult to keep holding your back against the blade. The pain causes you to doubt why you're part of this group in the first place. I think Christians need to own the fact that their own behavior can be the gust of wind that blows out smoldering wicks and finally snaps the bruised reed in half. People can't be expected to stay in the midst of that.

We like to talk about faith as something that should exist in a vacuum and shouldn't be impacted by the behavior of others, but we also say our faith communities are important in the development of someone's spiritual journey. We can't have it both ways. We can't put the hurting and wounded through the bait and switch of,"You need us to have faith, but we aren't to blame when we hurt you so much that you want walk away from it." 

Part of what got me thinking about all of this was that in the past I've heard friends say they aren't angry ex-Christians, or ex-fundamentalists, or ex-evangelicals. That's a valid place to be and I'm a little jealous, honestly. But I can't help but be angry. I have intellectual doubts, but I'm also furious at the pain and damage I've experienced. And  the pain inflicted on dear friends. Emotion plays a valid role in the development of someone's spiritual journey. We can't expect people to endure abuse and trauma and then demand they not blame their abusers and traumatizers. 

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