A podcast for new atheists, lifetime atheists, ex-evangelicals, truth-seekers, and free-thinkers
2 Cor. 10:5: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Learning to think for yourself is a vital element to getting and staying unbound. You have to unbind yourself from toxic thought patterns and opinions and start trusting your own sense of reason if you ever want your brain to have a chance at steering clear of all the garbage thinking that's been deposited in you over time.
Here is one key passage they use to keep your thoughts in bondage to their doctrine:
Matthew 7:24-27(New International Version)
The Wise and Foolish Builders
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
It's just more of that lovely Christian fear mongering and gaslighting.
Thinking for yourself is a vital skill that every ex-evangelical needs to learn. Again, this is not simply an evangelical issue, but exposure to the toxicity of evangelical faith exacerbates our tendency to be more heavily influenced by outside ideas than by our own thoughts. For some, the notion of making certain decisions, arriving at certain conclusions, and admitting that so much of what we've been taught is bunk can be very, very scary. And lots of ex-evangelicals wind up in mental and emotional places where they never know themselves and are afraid of the logic and reason that has started making its way to the surface.
Tonight, with the help of my co-host, I want to share some advice that I've gleaned from experience that I think will help you spur this process along in your own head. And since I already used the term, let's keep in mind that everything we are about to present is part of a huge, ongoing, lifelong process. I'm still pretty far from anyplace where I've mastered any of this. We all face the same struggles and it's every bit as difficult for me as it is for anyone else. The only difference is that Shelle and I probably have a bit of a head start and a bit more of a perspective than some, especially given that we were in evangelical ministry and saw things that the average pew-sitter doesn't. I've heard things that the average pastor would only say behind closed doors, never from a pulpit, and that, along with what I've cataloged over time about my experiences in this thing, I think, gives me a clearer perspective on the motives behind how they expect (and teach) you to think and how people in general start steering clear of toxic thought.
So rather than a fully scripted-out presentation of ideas, I've jotted down a list of talking points that I just want to spend some time discussing tonight like we're in your living room having a conversation, but just to lay a good foundation, here are a few opening thoughts:
Since we've already talked at length in other episodes about the science behind thought and thought patterns, I want to look at this subject tonight just from the standpoint of us as people and the tendencies that exist inside our brains. Whenever there's conflict, our brains simply want to resolve it. They don't choose sides, they just identify conflict and attempt to take the shortest path to relief. Many times that means that our brains will lend deference to the thoughts that contain bad doctrine simply because they're so deeply rooted and we've had so much time to get comfortable with them. Rerouting thought patterns is uncomfortable. The old ones are still there and they stay there, even as we're making the conscious choice to abandon them.
The ex-evangelical mind eventually becomes a huge map of ghost towns with names like Homophobiaville, Misogyny Village, Dogma Township, and Sin City. Ok, that last one is already taken, but you get the point...
Leaving these locations alone to deteriorate is a good plan, but building more modern, efficient, and realistic ones takes time. You have to pitch a tent before you can start building a permanent structure and it can be very cold and uncomfortable in that tent until that permanent structure is ready for habitation. Is there are formula for this? No. We're all different, our experiences are different, and the way our brains individually process things is wildly different. So, getting back to those talking points I mentioned earlier, let's see if we can start strategizing how to get to a place of clearer, more independent thought as individuals.
1. Give your thoughts, impressions, feelings, and opinions the floor – we tend to unconsciously dismiss a lot of thoughts that fly in the face of evangelical doctrine outright, especially at the beginning because verses like the ones I just read lay the foundation for that kind of immediate and total rejection of logic. If you have a thought or idea about something that goes counter to what your pastor once taught you, if you find yourself saying no or making an effort to put certain thoughts out of your head, that's your brain putting up its defenses and looking for a shortcut to resolution. Once in a while, lower those defenses and listen to what those rational thoughts are trying to tell you.
2. Your opinions aren't silly, they're just clashing with all that bad doctrine – sometimes instead of just shutting down those thoughts, our brains try countering them with self-deprecation and criticism.
3. Stop thinking in terms of sin. There are actions and consequences, that's it. Most of the conflicts that arise in our heads revolve around the moralistic and legalistic thoughts we had crammed into them in church. We judge other people by their actions and even if it's not a concrete thought, the abstract ideas that float around in there all spring from bad indoctrination and they make us judgmental OR they make us hyper-critical of people who haven't learned better yet.
4. People are going to disagree with you. Some of them loudly. - Let people say what they're going to say. Be polite. Humor them. Tell them you'll take their words to heart. Then dismiss them and do what you know is right.
5. Your evangelical friends and family WILL try to pull you back in and will use very manipulative tactics on you.
6. If the conflict is too great, educate yourself, but...
7. Don't engage in confirmation bias. Seek the truth wherever it leads. The truth doesn't change or even bend to our own opinions. Sometimes we just have to accept that something is true and outright reject what we know isn't. And keep rejecting it until it gives our thoughts a break. This is the dilapidation of those old structures I was talking about earlier. Let them crumble in their own time but don't get out of the car to explore the ruins. Just drive by and be thankful those structures are no longer habitable. Weigh the arguments on both sides but always weigh them against logic and reason, not emotion.
8. Christian sources will almost never be objective because objectivity leads to free thought. They won't typically leave the door open even a little.
9. The ones that are almost always try to sneak a specific way of thinking in anyway. We've shown how they do this over and over on this show so I won't get too far into it now...
10. Not all secular sources are good ones either. - This is where you have to be cautious about confirmation bias. You're not trying to find agreement, you're trying to find truth. Some therapists out there are as toxic as christian counselors, just for example.
11. There's a lot to the concept of “It feels right.” Sometimes the proof is in the logic. Unless you're convincing yourself that murder, rape, or pedophilia are OK, you're probably right in terms of things like what movies to watch, what books to read, or who you sleep with on a legal and consensual level.
12. There are cautionary considerations to that rule, too, like the ones I just mentioned. If your thoughts and opinions clash with social norms, maybe it's time to get a little more educated and lay your opinion aside in favor of what society accepts as reasonable and true. It may feel right to shoplift if you can't afford groceries since no one deserves to starve. That doesn't make the action right.
13. Have specific counter-apologetics to key arguments. This is for YOU and for other people when they confront you. - Start gleaning good advice and sound opinions from sources that use logic and reason as their bases for it. Start figuring out why you believe one thing over another and give your brain concrete foundations to draw on.
14. Be gracious where it's warranted but don't be afraid to rip someone a new one when it's appropriate. This is one of the key benefits of forming a solid counter-apologetic. It can get weak-minded people to leave you alone, and it can armor your brain against the doubts that creep in.
15. If you were wrong, just admit it and walk away smarter. You're not always going to be right. Toxic thoughts and bad doctrine have a way of seeping in and tainting pure logic. You did this when you decided that Christianity was bunk. Felt good, didn't it? Well, you may find it necessary to apply that kind of rejection and redirection in other areas, too.
16. All points of view matter. You can't develop an opinion on anything without counter-arguments. Even when someone's opinion is dead wrong, it can help clarify in your head the ways in which yours is right. Having those counter arguments to work with can be the thing that helps you develop a better sense of clarity.
17. Never parrot. Always verify. Always develop your own thoughts on every matter. You'll only get so far quoting Christopher Hitchens and Ricky Gervais. Don't allow yourself to cling to surface arguments and understandings. Develop your own way of thinking about things and sorting through them. This is how sound opinions become your opinions. You need to adopt them and then nurture them through education, research, and personal application.
18. Know your hot buttons. Be careful walking into arguments or debates over subjects that you know will be governed more by emotion than logic.
19. Confront specific causes of religious trauma – these are the things that hold us back the most. Revisiting the hurts of the past may steel our resolve against the concepts that created them, but again, letting emotion govern thought is rarely the best course when you're trying to move past those hurts. What were the things that hurt you or damaged you the most. What are you doing to steer your life out of the path of those things, particularly in your thoughts?
20. Doubt is normal and sometimes very beneficial. It's good to stay on your toes. Doubt can have two key effects. It can either drag you backward or push you forward. Again, the solution here is education and developing opinions based on observable data and facts. Sometimes doubt is the thing that tips the scales in favor of better thoughts because now you're thinking actively about those areas where your brain communicates conflict. It's also indicative of your brain not always asserting its own path to resolution. You're more in charge now otherwise you wouldn't be dwelling on doubt.
21. Don't discount your own doubts and questions. Always take them seriously and be proactive about settling those inner conflicts on the basis of truth, not comfort.
22. It's all right to think out on the fringes. Unpopular opinions aren't necessarily wrong. This applies to things like alternative lifestyles, non-traditional relationship models, recreational drug use that doesn't threaten your health or well-being... that sort of thing. Morals and ethics are largely individual Society only steps in when leaving people to their own devices can lead to real harm – areas like rape, incest, murder, and even various types of fraud. If you've decided it's okay to fuck people over for money, for example, you're probably wrong.
23. Be honest with yourself about your life and how you're living it. Actions that go counter to Christian doctrine are not a sign of rebellion. Do you feel good about your actions and behavior? Are your actions allowing everyone else around you to live free of any threat of harm? If so, you're most probably doing something right. If you have questions, consider the source of the doubt. Is is coming from your own sense of logic or are some of those old thoughts and opinions trying to have their way? Quite often, it's the latter and those things usually pretty easy to spot.
24. Laugh at the stupidity of how you used to think. Because, honestly, it was pretty stupid in retrospect. You weren't stupid, the information put in your brain was.
25. Laugh inwardly when you see those crazy thoughts manifest in others and be thankful that that's not you anymore.
26. Don't bombard people with your opinions unless they ask. The stress of arguing can help doubt find a foothold. Always be the one answering questions, not raising them unless and until those questions form the bases for counter-arguments and debate.
27. You WILL be shamed, mocked, scorned, sworn at and called an idiot. That's called Christian love.
28. You WILL be groomed with love, acceptance, and affirmation, especially when the opposite fails. It's a trap! Keep your guard up. They didn't have a sudden change of heart. They're just using a softer approach.
29. Never attempt to renovate old structures. Let them fall and build new ones.
Keep in mind that this thing called You is very complex. All the details are not going to be sorted out overnight. Take the time to work things out inside your head. Use the tools presented here as a basis for the work that lies ahead and remember that there's a lot of work to do here. It won't all come together in an hour, a day, a week, or even a year.
This process is ongoing and it takes effort. The reward, however is a mindset and a thought life that continuously re-aligns into a structure that has a far more firm foundation than any that Christianity would ever have been able to provide.
When Jesus spoke of houses built on sand, it was a means of scaring you into thinking that your thought life would crumble if you didn't follow the tenets of Christianity. This message is the polar opposite of the truth. It's religious doctrine that creates the shaky foundation. Take the time to make the foundation of your thought life more concrete. This is accomplished by building your thoughts on a foundation of truth, logic, reason, and common sense.
The sooner you abandon the sandy foundation of evangelical thought, the faster your sense of self will solidify into something sturdy and capable of being built upon. See the messaging you were fed as a Christian for what it was: an unmanageable, unstable, and failure-prone foundation that needs to be abandoned in favor of something better.
That something better is the ability to think clearly, rationally and independently. It's getting past notions of guilt doubt instilled in you by a religion that is based on lies, manipulation, and the tearing down of the individual from the inside out. It's developing the ability to not only think for yourself, but trust yourself to think good, objective, reasoned, practical thoughts. Lastly, it's learning how to keep your opinions forever open to change based on the things you learn and the understanding of the world you develop over time. I changed my mind about a lot of things while I was still a Christian and that trend continues now into my emotional adulthood that is free of notions like childlike faith and moral absolutes. Never be afraid to be wrong, Never be ashamed to admit that you were wrong. In making that admission, you are also showing your ability to learn and apply the things you learn to how you think and behave. Being willing to do the work it takes to start developing better thoughts and opinions is a sign of real maturity and it's just one more way for your mind to finally get and stay unbound.