I recently had a guest post published on the Christian website The Wartburg Watch, they titled it Easter Church Attendance and a Story of the Loss of Faith. The writers of TWW have always extended open arms to anyone who has been struggling with their faith, or even given it up altogether.
It's become a kind of refuge for people who have been harmed by extremist and even downright abusive churches, and when I went back to read some of the comments left on my guest post, I was floored by the outpouring of support from people who are their regular readers, here's a few of their comments:
From reader "Anon 1":
I just want to reach out and hug Sheldon. There is nothing in this world more devastating than realizing you have very little in common with your family or entire childhood support system.
From "Hoppy the toad"
I’m sorry about your experiences. I sadly have to agree that most Christians either gloss over, or don’t really read much of the Old Testament laws. I too, struggle with trying to understand apparent commands for women to marry their rapists, especially since rape was also a death penalty offense. I am inclined to think that there is something we are missing in context (or translation) and that the women ordered to marry their “rapists” were perhaps women really being ordered to marry their seducers. Whether there is good evidence for this, I don’t know, but it’s something to consider.
Anyway, too many believers gloss over issues like these and it’s a turn-off to both unbelievers and those struggling with their faith. There is a real problem with intellectual dishonesty, cognitive dissonance, and just shallowness of Biblical knowledge in the church.
My husband and his brothers, having been homeschooled in a Patriarchal culture, can relate to your experience of isolation. All of them are currently struggling with their faith, though they are honest, hard working men. It’s difficult for me to sift through the false teachings I have absorbed for two decades. You are not alone in this. I pray we all come to a place of peace in regards to our past.
I have an atheist brother who first began leaving the faith due to YEC and how angry my father and our IFB style regular Baptist school teachers would get when he questioned them. I still have have my creation project from 6th grade Bible class. It is a very heavy packed 3 in. three ring binder of many late night homework research assignments and Bible verses and magazine pictures, etc. all YEC.That was in reference to what I said about being in an IFB ran school during my elementary years, "YEC" is a common abbreviation for Young Earth Creationism, the belief among many fundamentalist that the world was not only created by god (with no evolutionary processes involved), but that it is only about 6,000-10,000 years old
A few people commented on what I said about some people suggesting, based on my difficulty relating to people, and obsessive habits, being possibly a sign of high functioning autism (I haven't been tested for it yet)
There’s an additional wrinkle there that I picked up on.
“…show signs of high functioning autism”
I have a theory that those on the spectrum have a much harder time with coming to grips with faith. One of the the things about spectrum disorders is that it causes massive problems with social skills and relational area of your life.
When you struggle to relate to other human beings, how are we meant to relate to God?
To me, the logical methodology of atheism combined with naturalistic evolution just makes more sense, if that’s the way you’re wired. At least, that’s what I think.
I have two kids on the spectrum. I’m probably on it too. Some days, the only thing that stands between me an atheism feels like my complete inability to not believe in the existence of God.
Coming from the kind of fundamentalist background Sheldon does, where complications and biblical conflicts are glossed over and problems are redefined as spiritual issues, I’m not surprised that he’s an atheist now.
I’ve met quite a few atheists who are openly spectrum or obviously on the spectrum, but very few Christians who are. Honestly, I fear for my spectrum kids… This would be so much easier if I was a Calvinist. Then I could just write them off as non-elect if they don’t (or can’t) embrace a faith of their own.
Sheldon’s possible “high-functioning autism” might be the consequence of his harsh upbringing.
Children in abusive environments need to defend their internal selves and sometimes they do it by dissociating, separating themselves from life (as well as painful parts of themselves) so they can endure. A dissociated person, especially when abuse began young, becomes permanently detached at various levels. It can make one seem dreamy, distanced, pre-occupied, socially inept or confused.
Even after hard years trying to dismantle it, I have ongoing problems. I have come to accept it as just another aspect of psychological damage."Headless Unicorn Guy":
Sheldon, for still being sane, respect. That’s a lot of work, right there.
Sometime last year, Rachel Held Evans had a guest post from a Christian woman who grew up with Asperger’s Syndrome:"Former CLCer" :
Here’s a quote from it that stood out, after a description of suffering from Wretched Urgency:
“We Aspies are notorious for literal thinking – taking at face value what is said, read or written. Thus, it is often recommended that we not participate in organized faith practices because we are too vulnerable to depression, severe anxiety, and even suicidal ideation because of faith-based guilt.”
And I can’t think of a church environment more full of Faith-Based Guilt and Wretched Urgency than an IFB-style church.
Oh my. As I was reading Sheldon’s story, the thought did pop into my head that he sounds autistic. (The special ed teacher part of me popping up.) Interesting comments from different people about autism and organized religion. I can definitely see that.I did leave comments clarifying that I was no longer personally in the IFB after the 5th grade, but my sister stayed in that organization for some years afterwards. As for my inability to relate to people, etc, it's kind of a chicken and egg question. Which came first? I have wondered many times just how much of how my mind works is a consequence of the isolation I experienced.
Southwestern Discomfort – love the truth-telling quote. I had this horrible habit when I was at CLC of saying truthful, or maybe just honest things (e.g. so I’ve been struggling with bitterness lately, or how can I get myself to like people most days?) I do remember a lot of horrified stares.
Was I born with my mind this way, and the isolation just made it far worse? Is the isolation the sole cause of it? Is it a combination of both? I really don't know.
Anyway, enough about that, I'm grateful for the support I received from the readers of The Wartburg Watch, it was incredible to read. The people there really do have hearts full of compassion and understanding for people who are questioning, doubting, or have just decided to give up on Christianity altogether. I appreciate the willingness of their writers and readers to confront the hard topics, and many of the disastrous ideals and attitudes that are rampant within evangelical churches. (I know one of Dee's pet peeves in Young Earth Creationism).
Whenever I read The Wartburg Watch, or blogs like Wide Open Ground, it's refreshing, it's plunging into a Christianity that is far different than what I have experienced in both the past and present, a Christianity seeking to be more sensible and compassionate. I hope this kind of thinking becomes the norm, and that the old fundamentalist ways will get tossed to the wayside. It needs to happen.