No turning back, no turning back... it was a line in a popular song we used to sing about our commitment to Christ and to living according to a certain code. I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. Well, what about when you finally find your way out? No turning back is good policy then, too, but lots of people do it. I was six months out and pissed at God and still looked back... and stayed in for more than another 10 years.
...and tonight we are going to look at what happens when we start looking back and giving certain thoughts, memories, and feelings the floor after making the decision to leave evangelicalism. Unfortunately, people – as a general rule – have a tendency to gravitate toward things they know to be self-destructive and a religion that was once a central part of your life is a huge example. It's right up there with starting up smoking again after months or years and getting back with an abusive ex. In fact, it's way more like the latter than the former. But before we get into any of that...
There's nothing that reveals the truth of your character more than when you flat out admit that you're trying to appeal to a wealthy demographic. Apparently Kat Kerr is redefining missions and ministry with an emphasis on the rich. Which is pretty rich in and of itself, I think. And if one self-indulgent nutter isn't enough for you, just wait, there's more on this edition of Christians Behaving Badly I'm calling, “storing up treasures on earth” served with a side of Texas-style misogyny because, these days, who the fuck even does it better....
Christians Behaving Badly
So while last week on “prophet corner” I talked about Robin Bullock, this week Kat Kerr has been prophesying all over the place. Orrr... maybe just lying. Potato, potahto.
Anyway, since all the public school parents in Florida are concerned about Critical Race Theory being taught to their children (which wouldn't happen ANYWAY, because it's generally taught “sometimes” in law school), Kat Kerr has decided to do them a favor and has commanded a million angel army to combat it. (https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/10/16/prophetess-my-1000000-angel-army-will-stop-critical-race-theory-in-school/)
While talking to the perpetually gullible Steve Schultz from the Elijah Streams show, she tells him: “I very specifically commanded the army...to shut the mouth of everyone trying to be involved in that situation, to pull down and shred platforms that would empower wicked people to do things.” She goes on to say, “If you picture yourself standing as like a general in front of a real military, you could walk up there and say, 'okay you all go here and go do that, And y'all go over there and do that.' They need orders...well Heaven's Army is just the same.”
Now this isn't the first time she's spoken of her own personal angel Army. She only dispatched 1000 angels to oversee the Trump victory in 2020. For that one they were given special red white and blue robes. (https://protestia.com/2020/10/09/prophetess-kat-kerr-dispatches-1000-special-ops-angels-in-red-white-blue-robes-to-oversee-trump-victory/) In May of 2021, she sent them to protect Israel. (https://twitter.com/rightwingwatch/status/1397917880360964106)
This week she's dispatched even MORE angels to wreak havoc and terror on the White House as long as Biden resides in it. (https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/11/14/prophetess-my-100000000-angel-army-will-unleash-terror-on-the-white-house/)
She seems really peeved this time: “I take power over all the power of the enemy that is involved in activity in the White house... I command my hosts of Heaven, 100 million, to go there now and 24 hours a day for the next ten days, or 30 days, you will release the terror of God upon those places, upon the people doing those things, that they will come to repentance, or great fear will fall upon them and they will just sometimes stop what they're doing...Go host, make toast!”
I'm not exactly sure what Ms. Kerr has been smoking but I kind of want some of that. I don't know about you but man this seems like arrogance personified. So God has given her, Kat Kerr of the pink hair and magical staff, who tries unsuccessfully to deter hurricanes and other weather patterns, charge over at least 1000 and at most 100 million angels.
Amazing. And apparently, this nonsense really pays off. In a rare, not on elijah streams program, she shares another 'ministry' opportunity God has given her: a ministry to the wealthy of America. (https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/11/17/prophetess-gods-moving-me-into-a-mansion-so-i-can-infiltrate-the-wealthy/)
In her 'sermon', she explains how God has rewarded her for her 'faithfulness' with her pick of a million-dollar home. “It's been on the market for 150 days, in a place where you don't even find houses anymore, in a beautiful gated community. Because, He said, I will infiltrate you into the circles of the wealthy and the rich. ...It's another assignment. I hope they're ready. I hope they like pink hair. Because I'm invading Queens Harbour.”
Well, lying to gullible people about 'visions' and 'prophecies' seems to be pretty lucrative. Amazing.
Next up: Grifters gotta grift...even from behind bars: (https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/11/18/despite-being-in-jail-a-prosperity-gospel-preacher-is-still-scamming-christians/)
This is the story of Todd Coontz, a christian preacher who also offered financial advice through Rock Wealth International Ministries. Back in 2017, he was charged with tax fraud. Why? Because he was claiming personal expenses as business expenses. He must not be very good at it, because don't all these guys do that? Or at least declare them 'ministry expenses'. And here's a short list of the things he declared:
His 1.5 million dollar condo, even though it was his family property was declared a business expense.
His several luxury cars? Oh, those belong to his 'ministry'. So does his boat. And all of the clothes and jewelry he bought. Annd about 140 thousand dollars for meals and entertainment.
In 2019 he was found guilty and spent a night in jail before bringing an appeal. He argued the conviction all the way up to the Supreme Court, who batted down his last appeal this past February. He's set to be released in 2025.
Of course, the grift never ends, as he has been found to be sending fundraising emails without mentioning the fact that he's incarcerated. Which is illegal. You can't run or direct a business from jail. Conducting a scam while being in jail for scamming is a special kind of stupid you don't find every day.
Here's what he's been writing in said emails: “[He] urges supporters to 'sow your seed' through donations to his ministry. He asks for donations of 100, 500 and even 1000 dollars 'millionaires receivers seed'—saying that 'god is birthing millionaires' and those donors can 'expect 3 supernatural harvests!”
I really hope they punish him for this. It's seriously awful. Let's see if they can't put this guy away for life.
And in 'fuck the patriarchy, really, fuuuuuck the patriarchy news': https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/11/18/the-christian-maternity-ranch-in-texas-is-a-disaster-in-the-making/
The Washington Post has written an article about a “maternity ranch” to be opened in Texas, where abortion has been made all but illegal. This ranch will house new mothers who may have chosen abortion if they had the choice.
Because capitalizing on people's pain is what Christianity is all about. Here's a quote from the article, talking about the many features the organizer, a woman named Aubrey Schlackman, first envisioned when she got the idea.
“A maternity ranch,” she thought, and she could almost see it through her windshield.
It would be a place for struggling pregnant women who decide to have their babies instead of having abortions, a Christian haven where women could live stress-free during their newborn's first year oflife. It would have individual cottages for mothers. “Host homes” for couples who would model healthy marriages. A communal barn for meals. Bible study. The whole plan was clear, and when she told her husband later that night, he said, “Yes, this is what we're supposed to do.”
Well, that all sounds lovely, doesn't it? At least well-intentioned. I see what this lady is doing. She thinks abortions should stop, and isn't this a good way to do it?
But really, this concept has been tried before in Ireland. Magdalene Laundries were such a place, run mostly by the Catholic church. They were institutions to house 'fallen women', requiring the inmates to work (the laundry). Of course, like anything run by a religious order, abuses quickly followed. The Magdalene Laundries kept operating for more than 200 years in Ireland. These institutions didn't help decrease the prostitute population as it was thought, as the institutions didn't actually address the poverty and lack of employment that fueled the activity. As unwed mothers later started to populate the institutions, they were forced to give up their babies.
In 1993, a land developer bought some of the land that previously was used by one of these institutions and a mass unmarked grave containing the corpses of 155 women. It eventually caused a scandal with former asylum inmates giving accounts of their treatment.
It always ends up in tears.
There's much more to this story than just that. Does this organizer have ideas of what to do if people are NOT christian? Or are LGBT? And what happens when that year ends? Do you just kick them out with no support? And what about her church, which has it's own problems with abuse?
I'm sure Ms. Schlackman thinks she's doing a good thing. But we've seen it before, and it always—ALWAYS—ends in mass graves or news reports of abuse.
Good intentions are nice to have, but the road to hell is paved with them.
So let's talk about this whole business of looking back and even going back to a religion that you know was never good for you, will never be good for you, and will never do anything to help you grow as a person. The holidays are coming and many of us are going to be around people, places, and things that are going to stir up memories. Some of those memories might be good – I know I still have some very good memories of people and events that relate directly to my life as an evangelical. The sad part is that it't those things that have the potential to pull you back with the most force. We put all the negatives on the back burner and zero in on the stuff that gives us the feels.
Now, I'm at a point where I find most things evangelical to be anything from mildly irritating to rage-inducing, but even I can get a little goose-bumpy when certain memories are called to mind... (rise and shine, certain songs, etc).
I never feel compelled go revisit any of it anymore, but I do sometimes still feel a degree of loss and even sadness at times when I think about certain things. Those misty watercolor memories can do a lot of damage and for some, they have the power to reel people back into a religion that only cares about collecting them, not growing them, nurturing them, or leading them to any place of maturity or autonomy as an individual.
For me, it's more anger and frustration and not even in a “how could you have done that...” sort of way. It's more a “god dammit why couldn't this have just been real?” sort of way. Because I really wanted it to be real. When done right, Christianity isn't half bad. It's the other half you have to worry about.
Why do people revisit bad habits?
We do this with a lot of things. We return to relationships we know are bad for us. We quit smoking and then go back to it. We go on diets, eat right, lose weight, then sink back into old habits and gravitate toward food for comfort, especially foods that have comforting memories tied to them.
But why? If we know it can harm us, why do we even think about going back to these things?
Well, according to Psychology Today, there are a number of reasons, all of which boil down to a sense of completion. We lose the weight so the diet is complete. We haven't smoked in months so quitting is complete. We've been sober for a year so beating alcoholism is complete.
That's when we let our guard down, isn't it? You deserve that slice of pizza. It's beed forever since you had a cigarette. You can handle one. It's Christmas. A little spiked egg nog won't hurt.
Now, for many, these statements may all be true. I had one cigarette after I quit. It was a social gesture and a means of getting through jury duty. It had been over 3 months at that point and I haven't had another since. That was July. But that's me. I've fallen into the food trap for sure... some of it having to do with quitting smoking, some of it pandemic stress, but at the end of the day, it's all excuses. I let my guard down. Especially with food. And I need to retrain my brain, once again, to think differently about it.
We also reach a point where, when we achieve certain goals, we feel invincible. The things that did us harm or that we used to self-harm can't hurt us anymore. We tell ourselves there's no way we'll ever go back. We then adjust the rules in our head to define what “going back” will actually entail and yes, smoking that cigarette was dangerous. Fortunately, it worked out. I still resist the urge like crazy because I know that the more times I “give myself a break” the more likely it is that I'll be giving myself breaks a pack at a time, not a drag at a time.
Then we try to convince ourselves that we've grown as individuals since we engaged in behavior x. I hate to break it to you, but if you're in your 40s, you aren't going to “grow” that much in a matter of months. You might change your thinking or opinions on some things but whether or not you let them keep harming you isn't a matter of growth. It's a matter of making the right decisions so you can grow.
You don't grow because you quit smoking. You grow by understanding ow good it feels to say no and remembering how those cigarettes affected you. Not having that social smoke when it's offered isn't a sign of growth. It's a sign of willpower, which you had already. What did you learn by exercising that will power? What did you learn about the behavior and what did you learn about yourself? Every time you say know you further the process of personal growth.
That's another important point: ditching bad habits, toxic behaviors, people, and places is a process. It's never over. It's an ongoing effort that requires certain decisions to be made literally every day, at least for a while. When it becomes more automatic is when things start getting easier. When the “no” just shows up when it needs to and the notion to engage in toxic behaviors or be in toxic environments vanishes as quickly as it appears, you're in a good place. The fact that these things keep cropping up, however, is proof that it's a process and that you still have to be on guard.
But what about when certain things are placed right in front of you? What happens when people start reminiscing about church and youth group days? What happens when you're home for the holidays and you're bombarded with religious imagery left and right in plaques, pictures, decorations, and more? What happens when your family starts to proselytize? This is where it becomes imperative to NOT be in a headspace of complacency. Your unbound journey is not complete simply because you haven't been to church in a year. This is why I talk about not just getting unbound, but staying unbound. That's the tricky bit. It's difficult to leave and leaving is an accomplishment, but getting lured back in is easy. Much more so than you think. Here's how to avoid it...
Part 1: Remembering why you left church
You left for a reason - maybe for a lot of reasons. It wasn't the aesthetics. It wasn't the music. It wasn't the overall atmosphere. People don't leave church for these reasons. They find new ones that align more with what resonates with them in those instances. The reasons you left fall more in step with things like:
Less and less of what your pastor said made sense over time
You didn't experience anything that you were told you should – you weren't happier in your job or in your relationships. Your tithes never returned to you two, three, and sevenfold. You prayed repeatedly for healings that never happened. You prayed repeatedly for your marriage and it never got any better. You prayed repeatedly about everything and nothing in your life improves.
People made you feel like shit for not “manifesting” things like healing, financial stability, or an “abundant life” when you knew they weren't doing any better than you are at growing their faith.
Your thoughts about this whole Christianity thing changed
You don't feel like God is involved in any of this
When you brought any of this up to your pastor or church friends, their best response was always that you need to read the bible and pray more with absolutely nothing more practical to build on
You got tired of spinning your wheels on an endeavor you knew wasn't doing you any good
So you got these things straight enough in your head to make the conscious decision to leave. You probably had some help in the form of less-religious or atheist friends and acquaintances. You probably discovered some anti-theist content and what those people were saying just made more sense than what your pastor had to say on virtually every subject. You took that initial step toward getting unbound. Good for you! The problem is that sometimes we break the chains but still carry the shackles. It takes effort to pick the locks and really break free. But I'm going to offer you some valuable lock-picking strategies that will hopefully help you drop the rest of the ecclesiastical weight you still bear from this thing. And I think that comes with understanding a few key concepts:
Whether you realize it or not, (or want to admit it or not), you suffered emotional abuse – you were constantly being scrutinized and judged, threats to your salvation, your standing in your church or any part of it where you were a leader or just involved - “don't make us kick you out of our home group...” and what about when they send you passive aggressive cards and notes because you skipped church or Sunday school...
They lied to you about... well... everything (heaven and hell, how you have to behave to keep your salvation, you're probably backslidden and need to rededicate, etc.)
They wanted you to live their way but you had (and have) your own plans
Then there are the things that pull you back – lots of very real and very valid fears and misconceptions that keep you looking over your shoulder. And yes, there are perfectly valid misconceptions. It's not an oxymoron. It refers to things that we cling to when those misconceptions are crammed into our brains from birth onward. Your fears are valid even if the thing you fear has no real power over you. Here are a few of the things that keep us from successfully picking the locks:
You're hung up on the concept of hell
You're hung up on the concept of sin
You miss the familiarity and the routine of church –
Social - there are lots of social outlets that are legit social outlets and not just a means of being able to keep tabs on you
Entertainment – live music and venues where you can do group sings and things like karaoke will stimulate the same pleasure centers as taking part in a worship service
You think you'll be happier if you just end the tug-o-war... but you won't be
You're questioning your reasoning – you think you're being selfish
Non-belief is harder than believing (skepticism takes effort, blind faith doesn't – one is a discipline, the other a decision)
You still think that what they're trying to sell you has anything to do with love. It doesn't.
You miss your social circle
You feel a sense of loss
So much of yourself was invested in your religion, you're afraid you've left too much of you behind with it – but was that you or just a version of you that the people there liked and accepted? How much time did you spend just being you versus striving to be the person they expected you to be?
Part 2: Dealing with the memories in familiar surroundings
If you're planning to go home for the holidays, be prepared to be deluged with memories, especially if this thing has been part of your life since childhood...
Part 3: Not taking the bait when these things are used to lure you back
All of the above will just manifest with no help from anyone. Once you're at that dinner table and they have you as a captive audience, that's when things start getting slid into the conversation. The idea is to make you uncomfortable and treat you like a captive audience. Remember these two things:
You have no reason to feel uncomfortable
You are not a captive audience. You entered through that front door, you can leave through it, too (as a last resort, of course... fleeing at the first sign of trouble will be looked at as a victory)
Listen to our episodes on surviving the holidays and developing your counter-apologetic to help prepare. Be patient, be a grown up, but take no shit. You have the right to remain silent. You also have the right to shut down uncomfortable conversations. An easy way to do this is to insist that the current subject be discussed in private later, then be open to it. Be the one with integrity in the situation. It will get youl far.
Part 4: Giving yourself kudos for not giving in
There's a lot to be said for standing your ground... but be the better person – respect other people's beliefs, don't give unsolicited opinions, etc. (suffering for Jesus...)
Don't be outwardly smug or superior
Be the genuine person in the conversation, in the house, etc.
Do what you can to maintain a stable social atmosphere...
…but don't forget your own comfort while attempting to guard everybody else's
On your way home, while the miles (or clouds) roll by, take the time to inventory everything you heard and experienced. Let your brain process all of it from whatever perspective it wants to. Be honest with yourself. If you're lucky, you'll feel very secure in how you handled things. You won't have lingering doubts. But what if you do?
Part 5: Forgiving yourself if you do give in
Like most bad habits, religion has a way of revisiting itself on us, pulling us back and convincing our brains that we can't live without it. But like most other bad habits, religion has had most of our lives to wrap its tendrils around our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In fact, nothing out there really does it better.
This is why I differentiate between getting and staying unbound. Leaving usually has a “last straw” kind of vibe to it. Going back has everything to do with the things we've talked about tonight. Some of the old influences show back up in our lives. We find mementos and other objects while we're decluttering, we see church signs or other images that evoke memories, their advertising shows up in social media artfully inserted into Atheist content, some idiot posts a live stream to a church service to your facebook nostalgia group and you hear your favorite Hillsongs track and it won't get out of your head...
For some, these things are too much to handle. They start missing the things about their religious life too much. They convince themselves that they were happier when they were going to church. All the reasons why they left get moved to the back burner and when Sunday rolls around, that alarm goes off, and it's back for another round of brainwashing and indoctrination.
We deal with so many things this way as humans (relationships, etc)
Part 6: Get back out and start back at Part 1
Remember that you aren't obligated to stay when you start seeing the red flags again. In fact, it's easier to stay out after you get a second dose of all the craziness. This time, you're going into this with a lot more knowledge. Your rational mind has had the floor for a while. When you figure out that nothing has really changed about your religion or how you know you're going to feel about it long term, getting out again and staying out is easier.
The concept of “replacement”
There are definitely things that you can use to replace the church experience and we've gone over them many times on this show. But if this is your first episode, here's the short list:
Social outlets – replace church groups with civic groups, meetups, etc.
Entertainment – what did you like about church? Was it the music? Well, there are loads of music venues out there where you can enjoy it. “But I want to sing...” OK, there are vocal groups out there that you can join. And books and movies are fun too even if they aren't the bible or about the bible.
You like sermons? Um... podcasts? There is a reason why I deliver the messaging on this show the way I do. Several classes on preaching and homiletics have gone into the making of this show. If you relate to my delivery, now you know why. Yes, sermonizing is a form of entertainment and there's nothing wrong with liking it.
So how do we wrap this up?
It's natural to look back. It's human nature. It's natural to have things tug at our heartstrings. Memories attach to all kinds of things – objects, people, houses, even the route you took to church – all of it can have a pull on your emotions and get you thinking about your religious life. You might feel feelings of loss, grief, or doubt. You might start questioning yourself about things you thought you had straight in your head. Our environments have a direct effect on how we see and experience things. Being in an environment where religion thrives and once had its effect on you will always be difficult places to revisit.
But if we try to keep in mind the reasons why we stopped going to church, why we stopped thinking the way our parents or close family still do, and just how absurd the things we used to believe really are, it makes it easier to be in those environments. It becomes easier to keep our thoughts to ourselves and just tolerate the religiosity.
Think of going back to your religion the way you think about going back to things like smoking or bad relationships. Intellectually, we know these things are bad for us. Emotionally, it doesn't always matter. Like with anything else that benefits us, emotion is always going to make a better case for harm than health. It's up to intellect to keep us focused of the benefits of not repeating cycles of self-harm.
And make no mistake about it... going to church is a form of self-harm.
Believing in fictitious entities and basing your life and how you live it on them is a form of self-harm.
Placing yourself in an environment where you are always being told that you are inadequate, weak, and insignificant is self-harm.
Letting other people dictate your personal morality is self-harm.
Convincing yourself that you are inferior to a character in a book is self-harm.
Consensually returning to that environment week after week to have these concepts reinforced inside your head is self-harm.
You're above all that now. You know better. You know the truth about your religion. Let the real truth of the situation be the thing that sets you free. In other words, stop looking back. And when you do, because you will, remind yourself of the litany of problems inherent with religion in general and how they were allowed to affect you in the past.
Ask yourself if you really want to go back to that. It won't be better this time. Your abusive daddy hasn't changed. His opinion of you hasn't changed. And eventually, it's all going to get old again and you'll realize that you wasted another few weeks, months, or years of your life pursuing things that just aren't real.
What is real is the decision to not look back, to protect your intellect from the influences of religion, and keep your emotions in check as they relate to how certain things and experiences make you feel. They want you to act based on your feelings. Act instead on the basis of what you know to be true: this religion didn't enhance your life or your experience of life in any way. It made you think less of yourself. It made you afraid. It left you with a self-image that was rooted on the principle of “I must decrease so HE can increase.”
Do you really want to go back to that? Or would you rather do what you need to do to stay in control of your life, your morals, your ethics, and your future? Because that right there is the definition of getting and staying unbound.