Dishonest motives

Captain Cassidy has been writing a series on Excommunications about compromise. The entire thing is splendid, and I highly recommend it (or any of her other posts, for that matter). In this post, she defined compromise as coming to an awareness of what our real goals are and then finding different ways of reaching those goals if necessary so we can have peaceful relationships with others.” This is an excellent definition, and it exposes one of the greatest challenges to meaningful compromise: people must be honest about their goals and motives.

I have a lot of experience with believers attempting to convert me back to their religion and sexual/gender ethics. Here’s the thing: people who think that they are going to lead you on a long, twisted, and heroic journey to redemption are some of the most dishonest people about their motives. It gets easier to spot once you’re savvy to the game, but if you’re still in the disorienting realm between “I feel guilty always telling them no” and “they are my friends/family/loved ones… they surely would never be dishonest with me” it can be soul-sucking. I’m going to outline a few typical tactics here and expose the underlying dishonesty involved. If you are experiencing this and you are losing your mind trying to figure out how to compromise with your friends or loved ones please know that you are not the problem. The game is rigged. It is designed to have only one outcome, and that outcome is not in your favor. It is okay to just refuse to play.

(1) Aggressive helpfulness

Believers may attempt to frame their goals in terms of your happiness and benefit. Maybe you’ve heard “I saw this article and I just thought you’d probably find it really interesting!” Or “I really get where you’re coming from, but I think this book might have a lot of answers for you… it really blessed me when I felt like you do.” Or “Can we just have a discussion about this? I know you don’t want to, but it will feel so good for you to get it off of your heart.” Or “I know things have been really rough with the family lately… I know a counselor you can speak to; I’ll even pay for it!”

But the goal is never actually about your comfort or benefit or happiness (at least not as you’d define those things). It’s about “fixing” you. The article will always* be some horrifying AFA editorial about a (totally not fake) lesbian whose mother paid to have her raped but now, through the power of Jesus, she wants to reconcile and be straight. The book will always* be about how it is impossible to live a happy and fulfilled life without X brand of Jesus. The discussion will always* be an attempt to prove to you that you’ve not done enough research and praying and bible reading to actually reject that particular piece of doctrine. The counselor will always* be unlicensed, Christian, anti-gay, and has already heard the “real” story about you from your family. It will never be good. You can say no.

*Okay it might not be those specific things depending on your situation, but I promise, it will be something equally as unpleasant.

(2) Unsolicited bribes

Similar to the aggressive helper, is the unsolicited bribe. The believer may attempt to buy your compliance. This might put a positive mask on their tactics but, again, the motives are never honest. The gift is not being offered for your benefit and enjoyment, but primarily to win an opportunity to convert you. At times, these can get pretty bizarre. You might get abrupt offers for things you never even asked for (but that the believer knows you secretly really want) with a stipulation tacked onto the end. How about “you’re welcome to talk to me about anything and then, in return, I’ll share my testimony with you!” Or “I’d really love if you could go to the amusement park with me… but that’s not going to work out if you do (insert completely unrelated heathenish thing here).”

These bribes can take an even darker and more dishonest turn when the believer does not inform you beforehand that there are expectations included in the offer. Maybe they offer to pay for a doctor’s visit or offer you a loan and then, down the road, hold that over you as a way to manipulate you into compliance. Remember that you never accepted any terms when you accepted their gift and you are in no way obligated to fall into line because of it. However, if at all possible, it is probably best to avoid accepting any sort of assistance or offers from someone who may have conversion motives, just to save yourself the headache.

(3) The Negative Reinforcement Compromise (NRC)

Another common “compromise” is what I’d call the Negative Reinforcement Compromise… where they believer will agree to stop some sort of hurtful behavior in exchange for a favor. Again, the purported motive is rarely honest: they may claim that they are compromising in order to “maintain a good relationship.” However, the only relationship they are probably interested in maintaining is a relationship with the former believer/straight/cis version of yourself and they are just trying to gain compliance until they can convert you. This becomes obvious if you accept their compromise and, when you don’t convert, they refuse to uphold their end of the bargain. Examples may include “Alright, I’ll stop harassing you about this if you’ll just read this book and talk to this pastor and pray this much.” Or maybe “Okay, we can stop talking about your sin, but in exchange, you should never mention your partner in our presence.” My personal favorite (the one that actually made me laugh at the absurdity) is “Okay, we won’t refer to you by your birth name if you don’t refer to yourself by your new name.”

The believer in these cases fails to recognize that no compromise is reasonable if their behavior is hurting you and you’ve asked them to stop. The only correct response is for them to stop, no strings attached. The NRC probably galls me the most, because it preys on the victim’s desperation to ease the pain or discomfort that they are being put through, often leading them to accept the unreasonable terms. When, at a later time, they decide that the agreement was unreasonable and they want to change the terms of the deal, they will be exposed to the full brunt of the believer’s disdain, disgust, and anger. This will often be used by the believer to justify any further dishonesty or abuse with the statement “but you agreed to X and later you went back on that, so you have no right to complain” ignoring the fact that the “compromise” was made under duress (and the motives stated for the deal were dishonest in the first place).

This is not to say that it’s impossible to find healthy compromises between people with radically different beliefs, ideas, or values. However, the people involved have to approach this with honesty. If a believer is honestly interested in improving their relationship with you, they will be willing to consider actions and options that you state are healthy for you. And you, in turn, can find actions and options that are healthy for them too. Both people must be approaching each other from a place of mutual respect. If the believer thinks that he/she knows what is good for you better than you do, they don’t respect you. Back off, reset, and refuse to engage until and if they are willing to approach the table as your equal instead of as your “designated adult”.

If anyone has their own experiences or tactics to share, I’d love to hear it!

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16 responses

  1. I’m just gonna link to some Captain Awkward articles, because Captain Awkward brings the awesome with figuring out how to deal with shitbirds and maybe-not-so-shitty-but-still-nope-birds, especially of the family variety: http://captainawkward.com/2014/06/04/583-the-worry-wyvern-and-the-dragon-of-disappointment/, http://captainawkward.com/2012/05/14/247-marrying-into-a-family-with-awful-boundary-issues-or-secrets-of-dealing-with-highly-difficult-people/

    1. I always approve of Captain Awkward. Ooo! Now I want to see Captain Cassidy and Captain Awkward become superheroes against obnoxious people and save the world together!

      1. I’d pay to watch that.

      2. Oh my god, me too. Someone fund this project.

  2. Thanks for writing again! I’ve been dropping by now and again to see what you’ve been thinking about! And all I have to say is wow. As you know I’m and all-in Christ-follower. And the behaviors you have observed and the insights you draw from the different encounters involving compromise with Christians slay me. How can any of us ever say our motives are completely pure? Why am I writing to you again? Why am I checking in? Why do I care? Honestly, I just want to see how you are doing and read the things you think about. The experiences you have had are not like anything I have had. You are teaching me. And I guess I just want you to have a different experience with a Christ-follower than you typically have had. I guess that is my motive. I want our interactions to be different. I hope they are. Take care, heather

    1. Hello, Heather!

      I’m glad you dropped by again. I have neglected this blog a lot since I’m working on my PhD and just don’t have a lot of time for other things. Besides that, it’s been a pretty awful year for me so far. My parents told me a couple of months ago that they never wanted to speak to me again since I’ve “strayed from the path” so I guess that’s it… they’re gone. That’s mostly what triggered this whole article; for the last 4 and a half years I’ve been trying to work out a live-and-let-live relationship with them, where we need not agree on everything, but we could still be respectful of each other and enjoy each others’ company. They had led me to believe they wanted that too.

      But, as always with the people in my life who want to “fix” me, that was a lie. They didn’t want a relationship with their child. They just wanted to buy more time to try to fix me. When it finally became obvious that that wasn’t going to work, they didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. OVER FOUR YEARS I sunk time and effort and pain and tears into this, and they were lying about their motivations from the beginning… my own parents never actually cared enough to just love me. I just… I haven’t really found words yet for that pain and betrayal.

      And that’s not even considering all of the smaller lies or dishonest omissions that my parents and my sister told me for four years. Neglecting to tell me that the “counselor” they hired wasn’t licensed or trained in any way, changing their story constantly, telling me “that didn’t happen” when I can prove it in writing, paying for me to see a doctor (for suicidal ideation) and then demanding I pay them back if I don’t comply with their demands, banishing me from their home and then later pretending that I was the one who voluntarily banished myself (I’m not even sure how that would work???), among literally THOUSANDS more that would get tedious to write, and a whole tangle of other lies that I have not yet managed to fully figure out because there are so many contradictions in the things they told me that I am not sure which ones were truths and which ones were falsehoods. Oh, and the prophesying. That is something that dishonest Christians loved to do to me. They would tell me “God told me to tell you _____.” Funny how god always tells people things that already align with their beliefs about what god would say and desires of what they want me to do.

      I don’t think that all Christians are like this. I know they aren’t because I know some Christians that I care about and respect very much. But there is a very important way for me to tell safe Christians from unsafe Christians: the safe ones don’t care about converting me. Any Christian that desires for me to be a Christian, or desires for me to be straight, or desires for me to be cisgender have never proven themselves to be honest or safe. Not a single one. I never knew how much festering, disgusting, ugliness there was in Christianity until I stepped outside of it and was suddenly attacked, dehumanized, degraded, abused, and cast away by the church. People that I used to care about and respect will now call me “sick in the head” or share hate-articles to their friends while I watch. My family rejects and abuses me, my sister verbally attacked me for even inviting her to my wedding. My old Christian friends have been fed lies about me and publicly turned against me. The church is absolutely filled with hatred for people like me, although they will condemn me for saying so because, in their twisted logic, their hateful behavior and cruelty is “love” because it’s “for my own good” and they don’t even realize how dehumanizing that is!

      I have several blogs dedicated to LGBT issues and offering help and advice to LGBT youth in particular. I can’t even count how many crying children I’ve tried to comfort and help who come to me scared and in pain because their parents are emotionally abusing them or threatening to reject them for being gay or transgender. I shudder to think of the number of times I’ve had to ask them “do you have somewhere safe to go?” or “are they hurting you?” or “are you going to kill yourself?” and “can you make it just through another day?” all because Christians are willing to abuse and kill their children in the name of their god.

      I’m probably coming off as really angry, and it’s because I am, but not at you. I appreciate the fact that you honestly seem to want to see things through my eyes. That is something that I so rarely see. I long so badly for a time when I can communicate with believers and they will truly listen to me, although I find it hard to have hope in that right now, after what has just happened to me. My trust is so deeply shattered and I know I will rebuild it, but right now, I’m just not there.

      So thank you for trying to reach across that divide. I do need some sort of hope in humanity right now because god, family, and Christianity has failed me. Fortunately, my wife and some of my extended family have really shown me love and support and I have gotten strong enough to support and have faith in myself as well. But the church? It is clear that I will never be safe or welcome there.

      … sorry for the long reply. I’d love to hear your thoughts, but thank you for listening and caring enough to drop by.

  3. Hi Evan,

    Thank you for writing everything you did. I think you needed to.

    I am just so sorry.

    You have been deeply wounded and the pain of your family’s rejection is like a torn-off limb that will never heal. I don’t know your parents or sister, but in my limited view, I think they are probably frozen in their fear in the belief that your life choices will prevent you from ever seeking or choosing to have a relationship with God or His Son Jesus Christ again. Instead of listening and loving, their fear and judgment have sentenced you to a life that will no longer include them. I wonder if in some way they feel like they are responsible for your choices and hence all the effort to ‘fix’ you.

    I cannot say for sure.

    The sad deal is that the body of Christ – the church – should be exactly the place you would want to go to receive comfort, support, love and grace. Unfortunately, many churches subscribe to a way of being that attracts similar sorts. Anyone different from the majority doesn’t fit. People don’t really know what to do when some one doesn’t look like, act like, or think like them. In a very different scenario, we go through this with our kids on the autism spectrum. It’s all well and good that we are parenting two kids on the spectrum, but here in South Africa, they are not valued in a church setting. We actually gave up going to church here because it was just too hard. Can you imagine a missionary family not going to church? That’s us! We’re okay with it, but I feel your pain when you say that the church has no place for you. This is our experience here too.

    Honestly, I think that some of the problem lies in that people want to be affirmed. Your parents and sister want affirmation from you that their beliefs are good and true. You want affirmation from them that your beliefs and decisions are good and true. When the tug of war for affirmation and worth takes place, no one wins. Some one either lets go of the rope or some one gets unwillingly pulled to the other side and no one has heard anything – the result is lost respect, lost relationship, and perhaps physical pain.

    Evan, I don’t have any answers for you. Yet, I believe that if my Savior, Jesus Christ was here – in the flesh – talking, walking, living life with us, you would be valued. He would listen. I don’t know what He would say, of course. I’m with you in that I get turned off when I hear people say “God told me….” It’s not that He doesn’t speak to us. I believe God does. Yet, I believe we must be very careful about telling others what God may have said – in my experience such exhortations do not always line up with what is really happening or does actually happen. For example, friends of mine were convinced God had approved their extra-marital affair. They believed they were called by God to leave their marriages and go away together. Sadly, in time, they came to a different conclusion, but not before their marriages were destroyed and their children heartbroken, confused, and devastated. Ugh.

    I turn my eyes towards Jesus Christ. I’m not perfect. Yet, I want to live like He did. He want to speak into people’s lives in a way that causes them to see Him – some way, some how. I want people to know that Jesus loves them, affirms them, and thinks they are amazing!!!

    Because, Evan, you are amazing!!!

    You’re doing what we all do – trying to figure things out down here. You’re seeking who you are and why you are here. You’re trying to make sense of it all. You’re wanting to be loved and accepted and understood. You’re doing what you can and working on a Ph.D. all at the same time!

    And since this blog post was originally about motives, Evan, I want to be clear. My heart’s desire is that you would get to know Jesus again – not to convert you – but that you would meet Him in an entirely different way than your previous experiences or because some one told you you should. No one should do anything against their will.

    I just appreciate that you are willing to dialogue with me and help me see things from your perspective. We come at life from different angles and experiences. I have not walked in your shoes. I do have two cousins who are in long-term committed relationships with their partners. They are lovely, lovely, lovely people. Are they Christ-followers? No. For the some of the same reasons you have shared, the church has not welcomed them. I hope to see them in the States when we return on furlough soon. I am praying that our recent dialogues help me be even more discerning and loving as I interact with them – because to be honest, I’m not sure where we stand. They aren’t too sure about having a cousin that is a missionary.

    Well, I think I’ll close off now. I know you are busy with your school work. However, if you ever want to continue on with our ‘conversation,’ I am available. I just want to reiterate how sorry I am for your pain and hurt.

    Take care, heather

    1. Hi, again. Thank you for sticking with me after my long rant. This has been a really emotionally trying time for me, and sometimes I just feel the need to put it into words, because it can feel very isolating. My friends are very supportive and I love them to death for that, but they often don’t really understand the pain; they tend to think “wow, your parents are crazy, evil jerks… good riddance” which… yes, my parents are acting crazy and evil, but they are also my parents whom I have many wonderful memories of and who loved me for many, many years before I came out. If I could just stop loving them or missing them I would, but I can’t. My background, my gender, and my upbringing already tend to make me a bit of an oddity among my friends and it can often be difficult to explain it, so I generally prefer not to. Sadly that leaves me feeling rather alone sometimes with this struggle. At least I have a (real, licensed) counselor now, which helps a lot.

      Also, I think you’re right that my parents actions were initially motivated by fear. That is part of the reason why I think the doctrine of hell is evil, disgusting, and immoral: it causes people to act in horrible ways because of the ultimate threat of being tortured for all eternity. If I honestly thought my child was going to be unspeakably tortured for eternity, I’d probably act pretty irrationally too. Long before I gave up on the belief in god, I gave up on the belief in hell. It is simply utterly inconsistent that punishing someone infinitely for finite crimes is “justice”. No amount of “god’s ways are not our ways” will convince my otherwise. Furthermore, the bible says that you will know good teachings by their fruit. Not a single good thing has ever come from the doctrine of hell; it has caused only pain, misery, abuse, ignorance, and cruelty. If there were a god which allowed his creations to be tortured for eternity, I would fight him to my last breath and willingly go to eternal punishment rather than spend eternity groveling before such a disgusting, hateful monster. If hell exists, then truly god is Pure Evil.

      But I do want to clarify: I have known Jesus… at least as much as I feel anyone can (which is an odd thing to say since I don’t believe in god, but maybe I can explain.) I was a Christian for a long time. I felt powerful “moving of the spirit”. I spoke in tongues. I was blessed. I saw signs. I read my bible and truly felt that god could speak to me through it. I prayed and felt like I was talking to him. I even saw what I believed to be a vision of him, rescuing me from a very dark place. I felt his leading. I studied for myself, I learned for myself, I truly believed, and not just because I was forced to or because I felt obligated to. I had all the experiences. I could tell people with assurance that I felt god’s presence. I was not just a Christian because I had been told to, who never “really” heard the gospel or never “really” knew god or never “really” wanted a relationship with him. When kind Christians hear that I left the faith, they often assume maybe I was never really a Christian. I just want you to know that I was. I really, really was.

      Honestly, that’s why it hurt so badly when I realized that maybe it was all fake. Maybe it was all in my head. I wanted it to be real so much, I trusted it so deeply, that I felt that it was real. But, when it came down to it, I realized that I had no proof. None. Nothing. All of my experiences were subjective and there were millions upon millions of people with their own Very Real subjective experiences that contradicted mine. For example, my family also felt god’s presence, had experiences, saw signs, heard god speak, etc and yet their god said different things than mine. Their god and my god didn’t match. Either one of us was wrong, or both of us were wrong. And when I extrapolated out the math to the billions of other people with other beliefs held just as sincerely as mine, it became obvious that assuming my “god” was the real one and that my experiences were true and everyone elses’ were false just made no sense at all. I wanted to continue to place meaning in my experiences of god, just like everyone else placed meaning in their experiences of god/gods. And I fully, truly can still respect people who have faith in Something Else and continue to place meaning in those experiences. But I just can’t anymore. It is impossible because my brain knows better. I could not force myself to believe it anymore than I can force myself to believe that the sky is red when my eyes are perceiving it as blue. I could claim it was red ’til the cows come home, but that wouldn’t mean I’d ever really believe it.

      I’d love to still believe. I certainly didn’t want to lose my faith. I think another common narrative that Christians tell about ex-Christians is that we “just wanted to sin” and that’s why we left. I did NOT want to leave. I didn’t. I valued my faith sooooo much. It was soooo important to me. God was like a constant companion for me in my life, and it hurt so bad to lose that. But I had absolutely no choice. If god requires belief to follow him, then he should not have made people who cannot believe. I can’t. I can’t believe, no matter how much I want to. I could profess to believe, I could go to church, I could pray, but that would never make my brain convinced of something that it knows cannot be supported. And I certainly didn’t let go easily. I prayed, I studied, I cried to god “where are you?? Why aren’t you real anymore???” But he didn’t answer, because, as far as I can tell, he’s not there or he doesn’t talk. He never has. And yeah, that was painful. And yeah, I was scared of hell, because I realized that I am incapable of believing anymore, so I was without hope. But in the end, I accepted it, I grieved the loss of something that was important in my life, and I learned how to be strong and happy without it.

      I understand that you are a Christian and I respect that. I have no issue with people believing that god is real, or that their experiences with him have value. I do not believe that they were god, but I have no concerns that you do and I have no desire to change your mind. But I simply can’t believe that. Does it make sense why? I would love to be able to be understood, since any time I have tried before, I have been met with dismissal or closed hearts and ears, and sometimes hateful words and anger. Do you understand why I left?

      Again, thank you so much for having this conversation with me. It is truly refreshing to be able to bear some of this truth and pain to a Christian (a culture that I still feel identified with in many ways since it used to be so much of my life) and to actually receive understanding and a listening ear instead of hate and cruelty.

    2. Also, will your return to the states include being in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area by chance? Just in case… sometimes I’ve found the world is strangely small. šŸ™‚

      1. Hi Evan, unfortunately no. We will be on the West Coast and in Colorado. However, we will be closer in terms of time zone! šŸ™‚

  4. Whoops! I didn’t see your earlier post when I answered your question about where we will be in the States on our home assignment. I actually have a cousin in the Minneapolis area though.

    So, let me try again!

    Evan, I am so touched, and I mean that with complete sincerity that you are willing to share your feelings, your experiences, and your questions. Actually, it is refreshing. Being in a world where I primarily serve with other Christ followers and then speak to a believing audience, your questions challenge me.

    I’m with you. Hell is a conundrum. It is fairly easy to dismiss ‘bad’ people to hell. When some one commits an incomprehensible act of violence against another, hell seems a justifiable place. Yet, what about those that are lost, unsure, seeking, mentally unstable, or basically good who have not professed faith in Jesus Christ? What about some one like you who once professed a deeply meaningful faith but has decided that it was not real after all? Since people have their different experiences and thoughts of God – who is right? Who is wrong? Currently, there is a group of people who are dedicating their lives to a God who is telling them to martyr themselves or to kill anyone who doesn’t uphold their faith. They believe in God – but their ‘fruit’ is mayhem, terror, and horror. Are they right? They think they are. Are they headed to hell?

    Evan, my faith centers upon the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He came to this earth to save mankind – taking my sins, my junk upon Himself and dying for them and then overcoming them and the power of death once and for all. My faith is a simple one. It says in 1 Corinthians 1 that simple faith is all that is required in that salvation comes from God alone and not by my works, my efforts, my wisdom or blah, blah, blah. Now, take that simple faith and then put it up against all the questions you have. And I confess to you that I cannot answer the complex questions you have. It says in Romans 11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord Or who has been his counselor?” I don’t know who ultimately will be sent to hell and whom shall be saved. This is for my God as Judge to decide. He shall show mercy and I believe He will bring judgment too. I can understand how difficult it is to reconcile that a good God would create such a place. Yet, my God is not just good, He is holy. I don’t think we have a real understanding of what holiness is – one day we will. One day, I believe everyone will kneel before God and be very much aware of the holiness and purity of God and see how depraved we are.

    In the meantime, here you are. You have been rejected by your family. You have chosen a faith that denies the existence of God. You feel isolated and betrayed. You are coming more to terms with your identity and perhaps wonder what the future holds for your life – especially if that means your family will no longer be a part of it. Belief in God and His Son was part of your past. Yet, Evan, to be honest, I think you still want to know if the faith you once had was real. It would be really disheartening and a thing of betrayal in my mind to believe that your faith was fake after all. And if you believe you were ‘faked out’ by faith in God, it is no wonder your heart would harden towards God. I keep writing you and continuing our conversation because I hold out the hope of God to you. I believe your past experiences were real. Sure, anyone can say something is subjective, but that is the wondrous thing about a relationship with Jesus – a relationship with Jesus Christ is personal and transformative. I agree with you that we will be known by our ‘fruits.’ And if some one is spouting something that has no redemptive truth to it, I am wary. Or if some one is into prosperity stuff – that’s a huge turn-off. Or if someone is paralyzed with fear and unable to look beyond that, I wonder what their motives truly are. Or if some one is judging and thinks they know who is going to hell and who is not, I cannot uphold that – they are not God – only He shall decide.

    I still contend that you are valuable and have worth. Why do I say that? Because you are created in the image of God and created by God Himself. Even though you are in a place in your life where you have rejected His existence, He does not reject Himself. And as a result, He does not reject you. My favorite all-time verse is from Psalm 139:5 “You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” Honestly, Evan, I believe God’s hand is on you. Even though your family rejected you, God did not. Even though your family thinks they speak for Him, they may not. Only God speaks for Himself.

    There was a time in my life that I really thought I was supposed to do something. And I did it. I felt God wanted me to do it. Yet, I confess that I didn’t really understand all that I was doing and misinterpreted what I thought the outcome would be. When the outcome I expected, didn’t happen, I wondered for a long time if I was really led to do what I did. Then, later, I realized that God had never told me what the outcome would be. I just assumed I knew. I was wrong. Ultimately, what resulted was something even better than I had imagined. Yet, had I camped on my assumptions and expectations, I would have missed what was developing. Your family has camped. They want something specific for you. They want a certain outcome. Yet, I wonder, if something even more beautiful can develop in time as they let go and allow God to work in their lives and believe that God is able to work in your life too – without their manipulation.

    I remain in hope that my God is able to speak to you and be a very real presence in your life. Like I said, I have a simple faith.

    However, whether you do or do not choose to believe again, is your choice. For now, I really appreciate our conversation. I’m not a Christian intellectual or anything like that, I am just Heather who loves Jesus Christ and believes He loves me, too. I want everyone to believe that too. šŸ™‚

    I hope your Ph D work is going well. One of my brothers has a Ph D and I know from observation what a ton of work that is!!!

    Take care and thanks again!
    heather

    1. Hello, again! I too am enjoying the conversation. We indeed be closer in time-zones, and I will actually be in Boulder, CO between July 13th and 24th for a Space Physics workshop/class, so maybe we will be even closer, depending on when you will be state-side. šŸ™‚

      What I enjoy most about a respectful conversation between the two of us is when I can identify the beliefs and opinions we share. One of those things that we share is that I also believe that you and I are both valuable and have worth. I believe this, not because of god, but rather because we share humanity, we have creativity and the ability to change and shape our world and impact the lives of those around us. We have a shared dignity and value as people. I gain that belief from my worldview and you gain it from yours, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

      “Betrayal” is exactly the word for how I felt when I realized that my god was not real. It felt like a broken friendship: someone that I had long trusted and relied on just disappeared on me and I realized the entire relationship had been one-sided all along. It actually felt a little bit like losing my family, although to a much lesser extent. After all, no matter how deeply I was connected with my faith, that does not really compare to the living, nurturing, flesh-and-blood parents that raised me since day one. But still, the feelings of shock and betrayal were a bit similar.

      And yes, for quite some time I really wanted to be able to find my faith again. First I tried to continue to hold onto a much more liberal form of Christianity, without hell and with much more ability to say “I don’t know” and much fewer Truth statements. This version of Christianity felt much more honest and less toxic to me, but I still didn’t really believe it, despite my best efforts. So I did a good bit of reading, looking at different theologies and Christian opinions, both modern and historical, trying to find something that might stick. I also started reading the Qur’an, and several ancient scriptures of dead religions like the Manicheans and other gnostic sects, hoping to find something that would ring as truth. All of this reading was quite fascinating, and there were certainly parts of every scripture that I found enjoyable or compelling. But none of them rang true. They all seemed much like I now viewed the bible: just more ponderings and musings of human beings trying to understand their world and their place in it, and what was required and expected of them. Many of them were passionate, many clearly deeply believed what they were writing. But that didn’t make them true. Indeed, the more I studied, the more I recognized how mundane many of the stories that I had once considered profound were. Messiah stories, creation stories, moral codes, and other similar things existed before and after the bible in very similar forms, often rehashed or tweaked from their previous re-telling to fit the new culture better. To quote scripture, there really is “nothing new under the sun.” If I don’t believe that one, why should I believe this one?

      So finally I settled back and said “as far as I can tell, to the best of my ability to search and study and pray and believe, there is no god out there. If god really is out there, he’s just not talking. If he is god, and if he actually is interested in talking to me, he will.” So I stopped looking and praying. I settled into a sort of agnostic belief, which I can’t even really call a “belief”. It was more a lack of belief or interest in spiritual things. I did not discount that such things as gods might exist, but I also had no reason to believe that they did. There was no evidence for them whatsoever, so I simply wasn’t concerned with trying to prove or disprove them. If god was there, he clearly preferred not to be known by his/her/their creations. I waited to see if anything would happen that might indicate otherwise and, so far, god is still quite absent and silent.

      And honestly, finally shedding that belief was amazing. I understand that this is probably strange to you, who finds great fulfillment in your religion (which is great!). But for me, it was quite the opposite. Once I overcame my grieving period, I started to realize how much happier I am without god, and how much better of a person I am without him. Losing my faith in god caused me to reconsider everything about who I am and how I fit into the world. Rather than concerning myself with trying to figure out an external system of god’s morals, I could fully develop my own internal system… one that was so much more compassionate and adaptable than god had ever given me. My love and caring for people grew enormously, because it was coming solely from my own heart and nothing else. I became 20-billion times less judgmental because I could see all people as ME. They are not sinners and they are not in need of god; they are in need of the same sorts of things that I am: basic needs, dignity, companionship, compassion. I did not care about them because god cares about them, I cared about them because they are just like me. That was such a radical shift in my perception when my love for all people could come from me and me alone, instead of from some distant, judgmental, theoretically-loving, invisible being. Suddenly I cared so much more, Igave so much more, I listened so much more, I spent the time to try to understand people in a way I never had before.

      And, as part of this, finally came a feeling of peace about myself. No longer did I have to try to view my worth through god’s eyes, through the two contradictory lenses of “wonderful, accepted, loved child” and “disgusting, depraved, hopeless sinner.” My worth could come from within. I could value myself simply for being me, and I could actually love myself, care about myself, take care of myself, listen to my own needs and wants, and no longer fear my thoughts and emotions as “of the flesh” and thus needing to be “crucified”. I could forgive myself for my faults and strive to improve them. I could be proud of myself for my accomplishments and talents, and I could use them to try to make the world better for other people. My failings were my own, my victories were my own (of course, shared by those that helped or hurt me). I was fully responsible for myself. It was like I had finally unlocked my potential to truly love myself and love others. And it was beautiful in a way that Christian-me could never have comprehended.

      Now, I don’t expect that everyone will have this experience, of course. There are plenty of people who may gain some of the same things from religion that I gained from shedding religion, and that is fine. But at this point, I have to say, I don’t desire to go back. Christians love to share conversion testimonies about how much more joy and fulfillment they found in god, and how they turned their lives around and became better people. For those people, I am happy. But now you know that non-believers have “de-conversion testimonies” as well. We can feel the same joy, fulfillment, and freedom without Christ that you can feel with him. For some of us, leaving faith was the best possible thing that could happen to us. I am a better person without god than I was with him. I would not want to lose that.

      So, if anything ever did happen that made me think that god was actually real (which is hard for me to imagine, but let’s say if) my first question to him/her/them is “why did you create me to be better off without you if you wanted me to be with you?” I ran into some evangelists a little bit ago who offered to pray for me. I said that was fine, but that I wasn’t a believer in god, so it didn’t really mean much to me. The evangelist asked me “if there is a god and a heaven and a hell and you die and find yourself standing before god, what would you say to him to convince him to let you into heaven?” I said “I wouldn’t say anything to convince him to let me in. If a god created me intentionally, then I will be content that he created me intentionally in a way that led me to leave him. If he doesn’t want me in heaven because of that, I would not try to convince him otherwise, but I would want to know why.”

      1. Hi Evan,

        I apologize for my delay in response.

        I’ve been a pretty sick little duck the past three weeks. I still haven’t shaken this respiratory thing, but feel more energy to reengage with life.

        Thank you for sharing your journey with me. You are absolutely right that you have a choice in what you choose or choose not to believe.

        For people similar to me, we have found peace, identity, hope and purpose in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Much of our challenge though is that we view Christ through various lenses; other people, experiences, creation, out thoughts, disappointments and hurts, and more. Why is this problem at times? Because when that lens is not fully focused upon Jesus, but our own stuff, we fail to really see Him.

        I am very sad about how you have been treated by people of faith. You have been deeply wounded. And if it were me, I too, would have a very difficult time trusting a God or a Savior in Jesus who is associated with such pain. Especially when condemnation, fear, and more are/were hurled against you. Who would want anything to with that?

        Since I live in South Africa, when I read things coming from the US in terms of how much fear and judgment is being thrown about, my heart cringes. I can’t help but wonder if they truly represent their Savior. I can’t say though, because I do not know actually what Jesus Christ would say Himself about it all.

        Right now, at this point in your life, your decision not to believe is working for you. You are content with it. You have decided to harden your heart, as we say, against anything of God. Will that always be the case? I don’t know.

        When your days come to an end, and they will at some point, just like they will for me, you will reach the point of final reckoning with God. Today, you say, you are okay with your decision to reject Him – regardless of the consequences. If Scripture is correct, then you will be given an opportunity to stand/kneel before God and receive your judgment and will hear why or why not He will allow you to join Him in the Kingdom. For me personally, that moment will cause me to drop to my knees in great humility. For unlike you, I believe God is holy and just and deserving of my praise and adoration and love.

        The deal is, Evan, I love Jesus. I don’t just serve him or do things because it’s the right thing to do – or out of guilt or obligation. I serve my God and seek to know Him more because I love Him. I miss being with HIm and spending significant time in the Word – like lately when I’ve been so sick.

        Unlike you, I cannot imagine living my life or taking my breath without my God and my Savior – and the working of the Holy Spirit in my life.

        I have had plenty of opportunities to question Him and to be disappointed too. I have. He can handle my questions and my disappointment. I still have more life to live, but I choose to do it with an unwavering trust and faith in Him – even when my ex-husband left me, even when I lost a child in a miscarriage, even when I developed breast cancer on the mission field, even when I birthed two children on the autism spectrum, even when I had to drive to a jail with my mom to fetch my dad who had been arrested for drunk driving when I was 21, and more. All of these things could have caused me to turn away from God and think He had harmed me or abandoned me to these challenges. Instead, I chose to look for Him within each situation and seek His help. For I could not have come through any of these things, without Him.

        My desire in life is to know Him more. That doesn’t mean I separate myself from others. It means I draw closer to Him so that I can love and minister to those whom He places in my path.

        Yes, your story challenges me. Your faith journey led you to a point of unbelief and you are satisfied in that. I have never chosen such a path. It actually seems lonely to me. I like the fact that my Savior is walking with me in life and leading and affirming my steps. Of course there have been times of silence – but never times where I doubted or distrusted His presence in my life.

        One last thing, I don’t really like the evangelist’s question to you. No amount of convincing would ever bring any of us into a place where God would ‘let’ us into heaven. I believe we are all guilty of sin. Yet, because of the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ through His resurrection and victory over sin and death, He covers us all – all who choose to believe in Him – and it is only through Him that we may enter the Kingdom of God. You know all that. You’ve heard all that. For me though, it makes all the difference in the world.

        Take care, Evan! Thanks for the ongoing conversation. I don’t know what it all means, but I am glad to participate!

        Enjoy your day, heather

      2. Hi again! I’m sorry to hear you were so sick and I’m glad you’re starting to feel better. I hope you continue to improve. A bad illness can really just suck the life and energy out of you!

        And thanks again for continuing the conversation with me. I understand your view of feeling happy and at peace with your faith in god. I am glad that it has helped you through difficult times. I can also understand what that’s like, as I used to feel the same. I don’t know if you will ever understand what it feels like to be on the opposite side where I am now, but I’m content that you are willing to listen openly and accept my experience as real. Feeling that I am heard and that we can actually converse both ways is truly encouraging to me.

        My wife and I were actually having a conversation just last night and I mentioned you. I was saying that, for quite some time now, I have cultivated many friendships with people that I radically disagree with about many things. Despite the fact that we sometimes argue and often disagree, we are still good friends, and we take the effort to listen to each others’ ideas and sometimes come away with a new perspective or even changed views. I place a huge amount of value in that. However, since last year, I’ve come to graduate school and have found myself surrounded by people who seem to only spend time with like-minded people. When I mention some of the experiences I’ve had or people I know, they respond with shock and a clear lack of understanding of other beliefs and opinions (political, religious, etc). Indeed, I find it a bit boring that there are so few colleagues around me which hold different views than my own. I do not want to be surrounded only by people like me and thus forget how to listen to and understand others. For this reason, I think it’s great to still be able to have a conversation like this with you. šŸ™‚

        The only thing I must disagree with in your comment is your characterization of my heart as being “hardened” towards god. I don’t like that term because it doesn’t at all describe how I feel. I am not hardened against god, I simply don’t believe he exists, and he has given me no reason to believe he exists. Imagine it a bit like this: find out that you have some long-lost brother. You are excited to meet him and get to know him and, for a while, you exchange letters and start putting together a really great relationship. But then, suddenly, he stops responding to your letters. You try calling him and he hangs up on you as soon as he hears your voice. He starts returning your mail. You try to ask him what is wrong, but he refuses to speak to you in any way. After a while, you decide that, while you’re confused about what happened or what changed, he’s clearly not the least bit interested in a relationship with you anymore. You are hurt and feel a bit betrayed, but figure that the only respectful thing to do for both of you is to stop trying to contact him and move on.

        Now imagine that people start accusing you of being “hard-hearted” towards your brother and tell you that it’s wrong to shut him out of your life. That doesn’t really describe what happened, does it? You’re just trying to move on when someone clearly shut YOU out. Yes, you’re angry and would be cautious of getting invested in the relationship again if your brother ever did choose to write to you again. But it’s not really your fault that you feel that way… it’s a natural reaction to being shunned and scorned and you don’t feel like someone saying “your heart is hardened” is really fair to you at all. The only reason you backed off is because the other person clearly wants nothing to do with you. If he had shown interest in return, you would have been happy to continue to build a relationship with him.

        Now, this example is a bit imperfect since I don’t actually believe god is real. But you do, so from your point of view, this is exactly what happened. God has decided to stop talking to me. He dropped off the face of the earth, he won’t have anything to do with me. I didn’t choose that… he did. He disappeared so thoroughly that it got to the point where the most reasonable conclusion I could make is that he doesn’t even exist! That’s a pretty deafening silence from someone who supposedly is real. So if he is there and just doesn’t want anything to do with me, how can you consider me hard-hearted for accepting that and moving on? It isn’t my fault that god isn’t there. If he ever decided to show up, I’d certainly be cautious of him and would want some answers, but I wouldn’t reject him out of hand. But so far, he’s not there, so I have no reason to keep sending him letters and begging him to show up when he’s clearly not interested.

        At this point, if god exists, the ball is in his court. I spent years trying to seek him out and salvage our relationship and he wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, to the point that I finally had to conclude he isn’t real. He has never showed back up. In fact, I realized that all of the times I thought I knew him before, he wasn’t really being obvious then either. For being an all-powerful god who interacts with humans on a personal level, he seems to lurk in the shadows. If you already believe in him, then it’s easy to squint just right and imagine that you see him. If you don’t already believe he’s real, though, the shadows just look like shadows.

        If he truly wants me to believe in him then he needs to stop hiding from me. I’m only a human and I can only do so much to try to find him. Eventually I will run out of time or energy, and I won’t apologize to him on some judgment day because he was playing hide and seek with me and just expected me to relentlessly look for an invisible god for the rest of my life without any proof that he even exists. If anyone else demanded that I chase after them my entire life while they blatantly ignored and avoided me, I’d consider them an abusive jerk.

        Anyway, I hope that clarifies some things. Get some rest and make sure you drink plenty (I know, you’ve probably heard this a million times, but I guess I have a little mother in me). I hope you’re feeling better soon! I’m sure I’ll drop by your blog again to check on you and I’m always happy to continue this conversation if you are! As I mentioned, I’ll be in CO this summer for 10 days, so if you happen to be there, I’d be happy to meet and grab a cup of coffee. Otherwise, please stay in touch. šŸ™‚

  5. Hi Evan!

    Thanks for the get-well wishes! I am on the mend, but really got nailed with something that just doesn’t seem to want to let go! Be assured, I’m drinking lots of fluids! šŸ™‚

    Yes, I am grateful for this opportunity to correspond with you. I think, we by nature, tend to be surrounded by people who are like-minded or at least appear to give to give the impression that they agree with us. I am really pondering your words in your last post. Particularly two parts.

    First, I did not wish to offend when I wrote about the hardening of the heart. I humbly ask your forgiveness. I meant that Believers often use this term to describe those that have chosen either to not develop a relationship or who have chosen to walk away from God. The heart is a representation of person’s life response to God and the desire to respond in obedience to Him in all aspects – morally, socially, relationally, in worship, etc. Currently, in my understanding, you are choosing to live your life as you see it – not influenced by God or His word. However, by what you have shared, you indicate that you have searched, sought, called, and perhaps even begged to hear from God. And when you didn’t hear, when you didn’t get a response time after time, you finally came to the conclusion that either God was hiding out on you or that His silence indicated His non-existence. And this is the second part of your post that has got me thinking. Why is it that you cannot hear from God? And what is it you want to hear?

    God is silent at times. There is plenty of text in the Bible which provides evidence of His silence. As part of this illness I’ve had recently, I had severe laryngitis and was not allowed to speak for six whole days. I’ve never done that before, let me tell you! I was present and active with my family, but I could not say anything. Of course, they could see me and feel me. They just couldn’t hear me. Of course I am not God. However, this analogy just makes me wonder if you may have either missed seeing Him or missed His activity in your life. Or if in fact, God did go completely silent with you – which He absolutely could have done. I cannot say, because I was not there. And if He did go silent, why and for what purpose?

    Has God been silent in my life?

    Yes.

    Yet, His silence is not indicative of His absence or lack of care to me. Have there been times when I railed against Him wanting an answer, wanting input, wanting something? Absolutely. I have been very real, very impatient, very demanding, very confused, in my rants against God when something wasn’t happening the way I wanted or a long-awaited answer had not yet come. I have even become discouraged at times. However, and I don’t know exactly why, I have never turned against God or doubted His existence. I’m like a bull dog, I guess – I hang on. I am fiercely loyal and over time my faith has been honed and shaped and taken root long and deep during thoese times of silence and waiting.

    Like I said, you’ve given me some incredible food for thought and for prayer.

    Thanks for the coffee invite too ! What an incredible thought! If such a thing could work out, in my mind, this would be a God-thing for sure!

    Thanks again for this amazing experience. I am grateful for it!

    Blessings to you and your wife,
    heather

    1. I’m very glad to hear that things are getting better. I’m such a chatter-box I would be disastrously upset if I was not allowed to talk for 6 days!!! šŸ˜› Glad that you’re on the mend. And yes, I would love to meet for coffee if it just so happened to work out, but I don’t know when you will be on furlough… it was just a thought if possible. We can see when the time gets closer.

      Happy Mothers Day, by the way!

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