Dear Questioning Christian, Scared Christian, Queer Christian, Abused, Disordered, and Traumatized Christian, and “Christian”:
Take the red pill.
I’d bet money that any ex-fundamentalist, when asked if realizing that their answer bank to ALL the big questions was horrifically 2-D is like starring in a debatably less weird version of The Matrix, will answer with a resounding YEP.
See, if you’re doubting, if you’re hesitantly curious or furtively Googling or silently mulling, if you realize that you might not believe in all that stuff anymore? You’ll end up with two choices. You can continue compartmentalizing your questions and take the blue pill – in which, let me be clear, there is no shame. We all take the blue pill during our lives, repeatedly and frequently, and it’s the only way we can ever get to the second choice, after we weigh the fear and risk and pain: to formally acknowledge to yourself that you’re not fully on board with the Christian life anymore, and take the red pill.
We took the red pill, but it didn’t go down easy. No, we touched the tips of our tongues against it, grimaced, hurled it across the room. We balanced it on the crowns of our teeth for months so we wouldn’t have to taste it. We summoned the courage to swallow it but we retched. We finally swallowed it and then we made ourselves throw it back up again.
But there’s only so long you can corral the part of you that’s ensnared in doubt and the part of you that’s terrified of what you’ll lose if you give that doubt an audience. You could end up breast-stroking through the eternal flames of hell. You could be kicked out, disowned, shunned by the church family. You could be left cold in a world you spent your whole life keeping away from with a 1000-foot pole and an upturned nose. I know. We know.
But pill casing doesn’t hold up forever. Eventually it disintegrates into a powdery mess. Eventually that shit gets all over the place. Eventually you have to bite that terrifying, monumental, revolutionary red bullet.
Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning. The pill doesn’t work in 5 minutes, 5 days, even 5 months. Instead of releasing a healing payload, it incites a full-body revamp to accommodate that payload. It’s a rougher ride for some of us than others, which can result in Religious Trauma Syndrome, a form of Complex-PTSD, always a fun party guest.
I’ll be frank. Overcoming an fundamentalist upbringing can be ass, especially with RTS. It’s cleaning up the brainwashing (ironically.) It’s being terrified of God’s wrath or convinced of your worthlessness even if you don’t believe anymore. It’s waking up in the morning and wondering what was abnormal or wrong about any of it. It’s the dissonance you feel when people treat your childhood like a lurid spectacle, a juicy news story, or a Sad Life Show and the fury when people gaslight and invalidate you.
Amidst the aforementioned bullshit, you find yourself swamped with even more questions. Did anyone else from church end up like this? Was it your fault for enforcing the teaching on yourself? Are you making this all up?
Look through your church’s doctrine. Think about the lessons you’ve been taught. I listed some common messages that I grew up with and I have seen many other deconverts talk about. Read them. Ask yourself if they resonate with something inside you.
- Shame culture: Humanity lives in total depravity (we’re pieces of shit, “worms,” or “worthless rags” who always want the opposite of what makes God happy)
- Savior/martyr/hero complex: Non-believers think they are happy, but actually they’re empty inside, and while they need wise Christians to fill their God-shaped hole (uh), they’ll fight us the whole way
- Dismissal of everything and everyone but God: We Are Not of This World; secular culture promotes liberalism, sex, and worst of all, V-necks. Pursuing that leads to really depressing shit. You see kids learning and spouting this, like this 17 year-old girl who’s definitely never seen anyone remotely resembling a Secular
- The World is Broken and So Are You: Babies cry from the moment they are born, which is evidence that humans are inherently sinful and selfish
An example of why humans are naturally sinful is how babies cry from the moment they are born.
Does it seem ridiculous that voicing the need to have your body fed, to have your physical needs met so that you can continue living on Earth, is considered morally wrong, selfish, and worthy of condemnation to hellfire? (Although, maybe not all of the above teachings are off… I’ve definitely seen some sinful deep V’s in my time.)
A lot of us grieve what we lost in the full-hearted “pursuit of a relationship with Jesus Christ.” When you take the red pill, with time, it becomes clearer that things you might have sacrificed for the religion you loved might have been given up in vain. It hurts. A lot.
- I wish I hadn’t thought looking in the mirror was vain and I wish I had seen what my binge eating was doing to my body before I grew a bit of a tummy (which I am slowly, slowly learning to love.)
- I wish I hadn’t avoided mainstream culture to the point of feeling thunderstruck when anyone asked who my favorite band was.
- I wish I hadn’t been taught that “darn” and “heck” were just replacements of “damn” and “hell,” and by extension, just as bad (and worthy of tattling on, as former classmates may remember. Yikes.)
Let me be clear. For many of us who deconvert, it’s a years-long, confusing, suppressed, even subconscious journey. It’s vacillating between I still believe in some of this and I feel like there’s something off about X belief, but I don’t know what and it’s way too scary/dangerous to figure out what, so I’m gonna shove it aside. Maybe forever. Even after we reach a tipping point where we admit to ourselves that we can’t keep forcing the doubts out and decide to let ourselves question – after we take the red pill – we don’t magically find the answers. We make our own answers, and that’s different for every one of us.
We explore different religions. We go atheist. We do a combination of both. We are angry, forgiving, or both in different amounts. We feel utterly and terrifyingly lost and alone. We feel like idiots. We feel like victims. We feel like survivors. Some of us bike sort of aimlessly for, like, hundreds of miles for years. We all have a different red pill. There is no Deconversion Schedule™ that Every True Deconvert follows, although some of us have brainstormed common stages.
Welp, that’s depressing.
Deconverting is a lot. It’s something I would never wish on someone not already in or entering the process. But I WOULD urge it to anyone who is. Because deconverting can feel like shit, but getting off the Jesus Train to Nowhere can be, and I’d bet many of us would say is, the best thing to ever happen to us. When a world falls to pieces, when a relationship seemingly takes a headshot, that sucks.
But it also frees up the emotional space and, for many of us, the first real emotional energy to build a life and narrative unpoliced and unbound by abusive spirituality. Plus, we realize that things we always hated and were terrified of (dating, Harry Potter, the gays) are actually 1) normal and 2) a lot of fun to get involved with. Up to and including the gays.
Ever since my first day of freshman year, I:
- got a free, competent therapist who has a wonderful That’s Bullshit face, great taste in Netflix, and a real handle on… everything that is me
- had the privilege of going by my preferred name, Max, for 4 days
- use my preferred pronouns (repping that ey/em/eir) freely without fear of judgment or danger
- am involved in campus clubs, learning 3 languages, have a beautiful squad of supportive friends, and am Vice President of a queer club despite thinking “gay” was a curse word just 4 years ago
- chose recovery from depression and binge eating
- got a free binder from an actual non-binary employed and established adult who is not the only one on campus (?!?!)
- and best of all, had the energy for the first time in my LIFE to occasionally be who I truly am: social, cheerful, warm, and queer. as. fuck.
I’m Max, I swallowed the red pill, and I’m not gonna lie, it tastes like ass AND chocolate on the way down and that can be really confusing. Depending on where you are in this journey, this can be absolutely terrifying and overwhelming. It might also resonate with a voice inside you. You might need to take a break from this letter. To forget you ever read it. To drown your doubts. To plunge headfirst back into what you’ve always believed. That’s okay. Do that if you need. Be safe.
But please know, if you decide to take the red pill? If you ever think you might want to but don’t know how? We are here. I am here. We’re a community, with a sense of humor and real grit. Below, I’ll list some bloggers who have helped me, and you can also view the Resources list I compiled for leavers of multiple fundamentalist religions.
- Kelsey L. Munger, who has been an open and kind confidant
- Samantha P. Field, (the subject of many post-surfing sprees, I’ll admit, and whose 15 Things Not to Say to a Recovering Fundamentalist gives me life as I start to autopsy my Christianity and my advocacy attracts some punchy believers)
- Micah J. Murray, who I admire for his candor
- GodlessInDixie, a staple of my early online researchy days (also, like, all of deconvert Patheos)
- Not a blogger per se, but my RTS recovery community The Art of Leaving, which I run with a tough gal named Felicity
We’re leavers, pill takers, world shapers, falling in love with a life way, way fucking better than Christianity always told them it would be. We are very much alive. We’re forging new happinesses, finding new gods, forgoing the old chains. So. Dear questioning Christian, scared Christian, queer Christian, abused, disordered, and traumatized Christian, and “Christian”:
When the time comes, take the red pill. We are right here with you.