My Response to Peter Enn’s web inquiry

I really enjoy reading Peter Enn’s excellent blog “Rethinking Biblical Christianity”. He recently issued a blog inquiry about what the biggest challenge has been for his readers in maintaining their Christian faith and intellectual integrity – simultaneously. Here is my response:

The biggest challenge for me has been the personal psychological harm I have faced from fundamentalist “Christian” teachings. It took me a long time to realize that my religion was damaging me. I was anxiety ridden and plagued with a plethora of stress-related health disorders. Not being one to sit around and meekly surrender myself to “the will of God” (being sick), I decided to research and research I did. This was also motivated by the fact that nearly everyone around me (in my fundie isolationist world) was also suffering from anxiety and other stress related physical ailments. What I discovered was that the fear mongering, constant guilt, misogynist control, hatred of the outside world, judgementalism, self-degradation, etc that is promoted in fundamentalist circles was creating a fear-based theological mindset that was placing me under an extreme amount of psychological stress. This led to digestive and skin disorders, CFS, adrenal malfunction, ect. So I researched. I acknowledged. Then I fled.

Realizing your faith is destroying you can cause a great deal of cognitive dissonance. It has been hard to hold on to God during all this. I had to come to the conclusion that evangelical Christianity has it all wrong. I had to look to Jesus and see that he came to set things straight and show us what God is really like.

My story is much longer and more detailed than this, but over the course of the last 3 years I have transformed my life and become, in the eyes of most of my “friends”, a heretic. I had to give up certain doctrines that no longer made logical sense now that I had given up on forcefully mentally back filing all the difficult questions that hung back in the recesses of my mind. I had to deal with them. Life had left me know choice. Wrestle with the big questions or die (spiritually AND perhaps physically) were you are now.

I could not longer believe in a God who torments people for all eternity in hell. I could no longer believe in biblical inerrancy. Did God really condone slavery, misogyny, and mass genocide? I saw clearly that fundamentalists are some of meanest, most selfish people on the face of the earth – and I had been one of them. I now understood the damage I had done to my children by applying “Christian” methods of child training.

At times I have even questioned whether God even existed. But I remember times in my life when I had such clear and miraculous answers to prayers that I cannot deny he exists and he loves me. I remember those times and I keep clinging to the remnants of my faith. I hope to someday build a faith that does not deny logic, reason, common sense, and human compassion. I hope to know God better and discover that he is so much greater and loving than we ever imagined him to be.

And I am no longer sick. No more migraines, massive food allergies, panic attacks, anxiety, and chronic depression. Now I have the freedom to question and to search for answers. I have found my way out of the darkness of fundamentalism and I am journeying towards a reasonable faith that does not destroy its adherents.

Quoted from a post on Homeschoolers Anon:

It’s really ironic, that homeschoolers hold up their practice as this alternative to the evils of bullying and peer pressure in the public schools. Because there is so much bullying and peer pressure between homeschooling parents, it’s ridiculous. Watching homeschool moms tear each other apart with their words is really scary. They’re brutal to one another.

I’m deeply grateful that I had parents that stood up for me. And I’m glad finally people are standing up for people like my parents (and in a sense, against what my parents later became), by standing up against the systematic bullying, peer pressure, and brainwashing that pervades the homeschooling world.

My comments:

I subscribed a week ago to this blog and I have been horrified to read the stories of what goes on in some homeschooling families. I am thinking of writing up my story and sharing it there. I think the homeschool cults do a lot of damage to women, not to downplay the effects on the children. I feel I suffered irreparable damage to my health. My children have suffered some ill effects as well and I often struggle to forgive myself for the pain I caused them. I am not against all homeschooling. Although my oldest 3 children go to school, I am still homeschooling my youngest two – although next year they will be doing online public school.

I think homeschooling can be healthy and balanced and I know families that have done an excellent job. Those are the families that steered clear of the fundamentalist homeschool cults. I was not so lucky. I suffered under the pressure and from and a very real breakdown in my health from trying to live up to the impossible standards of perfection. Godly women don’t have needs. Godly women don’t use birth control. Godly women bake their own bread and eat whole foods ALL the time. Godly women homestead (includes raising all your food organically, milking goats, butchering chickens). Godly woman give their children a Charlotte Mason education while doing all of the above, of course while maintaining an immaculately clean home and always looking neat and attractive for your husband.

The pressure (yes, it is peer pressure) in these groups is worse than what I faced in public highschool. And dissenters are gossiped about, shunned, and stabbed in the back at regular intervals. A far cry from “they will know you are Christians by your love”.

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Some thoughts on HELL

I think it is interesting that you don’t find the apostles threatening folks with hell in the book of Acts. I am not sure of the validity of someone’s faith in Christ if they are coerced and bullied into accepting him because “you might die on the way home from this meeting” or ” if you die today you will burn forever in hell”. I don’t see the apostles preaching in this manner.

I also think it is odd that Judaism had no concept of eternal torment. In the OT we hear of Sheol, which is clearly synonymous with the grave – if you look up all the passages and study the word in Greek, this is clearly seen. To verify this I contacted no less than 12 rabbis. Ancient Juddaism had no concept of an eternal hell. Don’t think this was an oversight on God’s part. To be fair, some forms of modern Juddaism do acknowledge the notion of hell.

You do not find God warning Adam and Eve of eternal punishment. You do not find its mention in the account of Noah’s flood when probably millions would have entered eternal torment. Hmmm. So folks that question the eternal nature of hell (annialationists) are called heretics?

Why are we so anxious in Christendom today to throw around the word heretic and question everyone’s salvation who is willing to make honest inquiries into matters. Are we not told to be like the Bereans? Somehow it smacks of mind control to me when folks are not permitted to make honest inquiry without being judged. Any church that condemns honest questioning is concerning to me. How did Jesus deal with Nicodemus’ honest questions?

Does doubting Mean You’re Unsaved?

I don’t believe that struggling over a particular doctrine means you are not saved. This is what I was taught in my IFB cult. If you struggle to accept eternal security, you are not saved. If you got saved reading an NIV, you are not saved. If you don’t exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, you are not saved (and those of us who tend to be very introspective and honest about our failings suffer with this one big time). If you ever fall away, you were never truly saved. If you struggle with fear, you may not be saved (this certainly helps to alleviate your fears right? Now you can feel even worse about what you already feel guilty about). If you got a tattoo after you are a Christian, you were probably never saved.

It was doctrinal doubt that led me to abandon the Word of Faith charismatic church after my first child died despite efforts of the church members to raise her from the dead (she was born with birth defects). When the reality of a doctrine being false hits you hard in the death of your child, you are forced to reexamine your beliefs. Perhaps God does not want to heal everyone all the time after all, despite what I was taught?

Then I was forced to examine the teachings of Charity when I suffered from panic attacks, anxiety, adrenal failure, chronic infections, celiac disease, and a pulmonary embolism – at age 32. Lots of time to think things through when you are bedridden for 3mo. and chronically ill for 2 years. The exhaustion of trying to be perfect wore on me.

Then I “graduated” to the Plymouth Brethren, were I learned salvation by grace, and those that did not believe in eternal security were never truly saved. I learned I could not be perfect after all and embraced the grace of God. But I had to think my way through their exclusive doctrines about the plurality of leadership, etc, when the church fell apart (after 2 elders fell into adultery and subsequently divorced), leaving us looking for a church. All the churches had Pastors, which to a PB, is the epitome of evil.

Then I had to analyze Calvinist doctrines of election when my daughter developed mental illness after being tormented about her salvation – perhaps she was not one of God’s elect. It took 2.5 years and some research on neuroplasticity to free her from the pain of OCD.

After this I began to seriously take a good hard look at the fruit of the legalistic, fundamentalism, I had been involved in. I had to look no further than my friends. They were riddled with anxiety disorders, panic attacks, neurosises, children with mental issues, physical stress related health disorders, etc. Jesus said to examine a tree by its fruit. All I saw was a rotten, stinking mess. I have since come to the conclusion that extreme fundamentalism is dangerous and will make its adherents sick – mentally and physically. And quite honestly, I love and care about folks health and well being. And since Jesus came and healed diseases and bound up the broken-hearted, I figured somehow I must have missed something. The folks I knew that had not faired so well, genuinely trusted Christ to save them, yet their religion was killing them. So once again, I find myself in a place of examining things after leaving my IFB cult. Which was the worst church of all of them, despite the fact that they were doctrinally orthodox on the gospel. Never in my life had I witnessed such gross maltreatment of other human beings.

So that is why I question. I do not question Jesus, his diety, or his atonement, but everything else is up for scrutiny right now and will continue to be until I can come to conclusions that are tenable with reality.

Why this blog

This blog is a means of self-expression for a soul that finds itself in a place of uncertainty – certain only that there are others who find themselves in a similar place. May we journey together.

So how did I get to where I am today? Three years ago I was 100% sure that I was 100% right about 100% of what I believed about everything. But reality kept slapping me in the face with truth. Truth that was not consistent with my theology and could not be denied. Truth that forced me to stop mentally backfiling theological inconsistancies. Life circumstances began to force me to see things differently. In my search for answers…. I found even more questions.

I thought perhaps I could ponder some of these questions here, so someone out there might find hope in knowing that they are not alone.