Not ready to be nice

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Why are you so angry? It doesn’t make sense to be angry about God, since you don’t believe there is a God. You people are like talking to robots that only repeat their programming. I feel so sad for you. You haven’t truly experienced Jesus or you would never say the things you say. I accept that you don’t believe, but why be disrespectful of someone else’s religion? I don’t get it, why would you need encouragement in your ex-Christianity?

Various Christians regularly post these kinds of questions and quips to http://ExChristian.Net.

Since http://ExChristian.Net first went live, Christians of all denominational affiliations have posted remarks accusing ex-Christians of being bitter, unwilling to listen, not open to discussion, angry at God, angry at church, angry at Christians, or just plain angry. This emotional feeling about Christianity, say these Christians, is probably a sign that ex-Christians really know that Christianity is true. These Christians claim that if ex-Christians are truly free from religion, then they would retain no animosity toward, or interest in, Christianity. Ex-Christians, supposedly, should be able to peacefully live life, tolerant of all those who preach the Gospel, without ever expressing any negativity about Christianity. Any lingering resentment, say these Christians, shows that ex-Christians, deep down, still believe in Jesus.

Unfortunately, Christians are not the only ones who misunderstand an Ex-Christian’s frustration. Atheists, who have never had the misfortune of being entangled in the web of Christianity, occasionally level similar censures.

Margaret Thaler Singer, PhD, a clinical psychologist and former professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, did ground-breaking research on the brainwashing of American soldiers captured during the Korean War. She was often sought out by lawyers as an expert witness in high-profile cases, including the People's Temple and the mass murder-suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, as well as the Branch Davidian and Heaven's Gate cults. Over the years, she interviewed more than 4,000 current and former cult members, including Charles Manson and many of his followers. The terms post-cult trauma or post-cult syndrome were first used by Singer to describe the intense emotional problems that some cult members experience at de-conversion. According to her, abandoning a cult can be traumatic for former cult members.

For those who aren’t used to thinking of Christianity as a cult, I should probably stop here and explain. The word cult is widely used in today’s conversations to describe new religious movements outside the mainstream. These “cults” often use some form of mind-control, or brainwashing to keep adherents faithful. Although many so-called cults differ little from many mainstream religions, political correctness avoids using the negative connotations associated with the word “cult” when referencing religions with a rich history and a large following. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Shintoism, etc, are not called cults, because they are all considered mainstream religions, and political correctness demands they always be addressed respectfully. Modern Christianity is unquestionably within the mainstream in the 21st century, but it cannot be denied that Christianity was once a new religion, a brand new cult, with beliefs that were considered quite strange by the rest of society. It seems that a cult becomes transformed into an accepted religion if the cult attracts enough followers and survives long enough. I would posit that all religions start out as cults and can accurately be called cults as long as they exist, regardless of their comparative popularity or widespread acceptance. While most mainstream Christian churches do not practice the aggressive mind-control tactics of the newer cults, a true Christian is still expected to attend church regularly, attend home meetings, get involved with ministry outreach, spend time in personal prayer and study, lead family devotions, tithe regularly, hang out with Christians, read Christian books, avoid worldly entertainment, be transformed by the renewing of the mind… The list could go on, and as any “true Christian™ knows, that list is long.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent comment posted on by a young teen who considers himself to be a true believer:
“i im a cristian an i always will be i accepted jesus(my savior) into my heart and age 8 and i am now 15.

We (humans) are full of sin. there is not one little bit of us thats not full of sin.
the punishment for this sin is that we must go to hell and burn but, god sent his one and only son down to earth to live a life on earth without sin and die one a cross for us so that we could live and eternal life in heaven. there is so much truth in the bible that would prove all this to be true.

Regrettably, whether this young man or his family called it religious indoctrination, catechism, or whatever, he has been brainwashed. That washing may have been accomplished gradually over the course of several years, but it was, nonetheless, accomplished.

So, if religious training can be described as a kind of brainwashing, so what? Why the anger? Why the bitterness? Why the visceral language? Why all the venting?

The answer is simple:the trauma of leaving Christianity is no different than the trauma experienced from leaving a modern, spiritually abusive, mind-control cult.

From Wikipedia:
“Spiritual abuse is not necessarily deliberate, but may be the outcome of an over-emphasis on a particular doctrine (e.g. the teaching that everyone outside the group will go to hell) or the genuine belief that the will of God is being followed … In Christianity, spiritual abuse is most prevalent in … churches related to fundamentalism, very conservative evangelicalism and in some of the churches in the charismatic movement or Pentecostalism.”

Another branch that could be included in this list is Christian Reconstructionism.

When a person is in a long-term, abusive relationship, nearly everything that happens within that relationship seems normal. How often do abused wives believe they deserve the abuse? How often do abused children deny that anything is wrong? However, once that person has left the abusive relationship, behavior that once seemed routine is soon recognized as aberrant. Since religious cultic behavioral patterns are meant to envelope every part of person’s life—friends, family, money, social experiences, literature, entertainment, thoughts, etc.—when a person leaves a cultic womb, that person leaves behind a significant portion of life, and it can hurt. Then, when a vigilant cultist knocks on the door to parrot rhetoric now understood as the language of abuse, such as when a Christian starts inanely preaching about hell, sin and the need to repent, it can be like pushing a button or emotional trigger in the de-convert. Such insensitivity on the part of the Christian will likely be viewed as a personal attack and could very well be met with exasperation, resentment, or even aggressive resistance. Besides, at the very least, unsolicited preaching is annoying.

Allowing ex-Christians to express their frustrations in a virtual atmosphere of anonymity gives those who are hurting the chance to clear the air, vent, meet others with similar experiences, and in time analyze, reassess and heal from the abuse. While a Christian might be offended by disparaging comments leveled at Christianity, no one is forced to read or listen to what is shared here. Most ex-Christians, regardless of whether struggling with de-conversion issues or not, do not want to shout down believers at work, or family members at home, or strangers on the street. Airing grievances among like-minded people can be a great relief. For some, de-conversion places them not just outside the church, but outside of family, outside of friendships, or even outside the community where they live. For personal reasons, many de-converts keep their de-conversion a secret, and therefore have no one with whom to discuss the issues they’re facing. This forum provides a haven-of-sorts to those people. Sometimes, just the knowledge that you’re not alone can be a comfort, an encouragement.

Most people do not convert on a whim. They don’t wake up one day and blandly decide, “Today I’ll become a Christian.” Conversion is usually accompanied by a strong emotional experience brought on by any number of motivators. Later, that emotional experience is ratified with what the convert believes to be a logical or intelligent thought process. Still, the initial entry into faith is nearly always primarily an emotional experience. De-conversion works similarly, but in reverse. True converts do not one day suddenly wake up and insipidly deny the faith. True converts who de-convert go through weeks, months or years of agonizing soul-searching before coming to the conclusion that Christianity is false. While conversion to Christianity is begun with an emotional episode followed by logical reasons to maintain belief, the pattern of de-conversion is frequently begun with the realization that "the faith" has illogical holes. Through those holes tumbles emotional fallout. The early joy of conversion at “accepting the truth” is often mirrored by disappointment, depression, or anger at discovering the "real truth" at de-conversion. While there is a measure of relief and freedom when the bonds of religious slavery are finally broken, all the torn life connections can rend ugly, emotional scars.

Reformed alcoholics and smokers frequently become the most ardent campaigners against their former addictions. Similarly, committed Christian converts frequently become the most passionate apostates.

A piece of advice to the Christian who feels compelled to post responses on this website: Realize that most of the former Christians you are communicating with here have been saturated with every apologetic you might present. None have left the faith easily, and none have left without some degree of emotional scarring. Many of those scars haven’t healed. If you decide that it is your heavenly mission to open those wounds afresh, expect that you may receive a biting response.

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