A blog I regularly follow and enjoy is Godless in Dixie. The writer of this blog left his fundamentalist Christian faith and is now an atheist. Oh, and he lives in Mississippi–one of the most rabidly conservatively Christian places in the world, hence the name of his blog. Being Christian is woven into every part of the fabric of life there. Recently, he wrote this post, which touched a familiar nerve with me. He talks about those who have built their lives so much around a religious faith, such that the thought of leaving becomes absolutely horrifying, as it could literally mean losing everything, and starting from scratch.
During my years in Boston working at The Mother Church, I often contemplated the idea of leaving Christian Science. Often it was just a fleeting thought, a sort of “what if” moment of contemplation; other times, it was a stronger “get the hell out now” thought. However, my entire life was enveloped in the cocoon of Christian Science. I worked at the Church, so my career and livelihood was tied to Christian Science. Additionally, all of my friends were Christian Scientists; and I also exclusively dated women who were Christian Scientists. I was even active in a Christian Science singles group, and regularly attended their events. In short, my life from dawn to dusk, day in, day out, was largely immersed in Christian Science and its culture. Even though the thoughts of leaving dripped on my mind like water out of a leaky faucet, I just did not have the courage to leave; and I didn’t see myself ever leaving, no matter what doubts crossed my mind. I’d literally be jumping without a parachute–not something one generally chooses to do. I was also fearful of the thought that Christian Science was probably false.
Sometimes, people will take that leap and start from scratch because either they gain the courage to do so, or they just can’t stand being where they are anymore, and the need to be honest with one’s self outweighs the instinct for survival or comfort. Many just keep plodding along, keeping up a charade, and suppressing their doubts. This is what I did for many years. As I’ve said before in many other posts, I desperately wanted to make Christian Science work. I wanted to believe it worked, but deep down I knew it didn’t; and for me, as my regular readers know, it was dramatic events that pushed me out.
“So you stuff your questions down. You try to forget about them. Or maybe you take them out every once in a while and wrestle some with them (as I did on occasion) but whenever you reach that point wherein the most logical conclusion would be to say, ‘This is all nonsense,’ you have to stop. You have to. If you don’t, the cost will be too high, and you know it. So you stay there for years, maybe even decades.” 1
As the author of Godless in Dixie points out, many are afraid to leave a faith they no longer believe in, because their entire lives are wrapped up in it, and often marriages are predicated on a shared faith. It’s not easy, in fact it’s nearly impossible for most to just up and walk away from it all. This is no different for many Christian Scientists, such as I was. My friendships, my career, and my relationships were all predicated on my adherence to Christian Science. The liberal arts college I went to was a college for Christian Scientists. Christian Science was the centre and circumference of my universe. So, I just “stuffed it”. I stuffed my questions, stuffed my doubts. They were very inconvenient; they were very scary. They threatened to upend my perfect little universe if I let them. But like Mr. Godless, sometimes I had to take my doubts out for a little walk once in awhile. For many years, the price for letting them out too freely was one I wasn’t willing to pay. This is why many never leave, even after deeply traumatic events.
Even immediately after my parents’ deaths, I didn’t want to fully leave Christian Science, although I was very much on my way out then, even if I didn’t realize it. It was a weird comfort zone for me, even in the face of some very dramatic failures on its part, and awful betrayals at the hands of my Christian Science Teacher. I was like a hamster that lived its entire life in a 3′ x 3′ cage. When the cage was removed (in my case when my eyes were truly opened to the absolute ineffectiveness of Christian Science, and the complete lack of empathy on the part of some of its adherents), I still paced around in that 3′ x 3′ space for awhile. I initially thought I would only leave the institutions and “culture” of Christian Science, but would keep going with my study of it.
Even though I have fully left Christian Science and purged my home of Christian Science books and literature (save for one keepsake set my parents gave me years ago, and some general bible reference material for research purposes), I did not really take the leap of faith that many take when they leave a faith that has enveloped every aspect of their lives. I sort of eased out of Christian Science, and into another spiritual path. During the time I was dealing with my Dad’s rapidly declining health, I had begun to attend a First Nations/Native American sweat lodge. As I’ve said in many previous posts, this brought me healing; it walked me through my grief, forcing me to face it and experience it thereby healing. It also brought me a new family of friends who embraced me in my moments of darkness. This family of friends became my new family after my Dad’s death. My attendance at this sweat lodge also put me in touch with my current employer, leading me on a completely new career path. Change is something I’ve learned to embrace now.
Yes, in a sense perhaps it appears that I am now cloistered in a new faith community–one that entails my social life, career, family, relationships. In a sense, some of those aspects of my life are entwined with my spiritual path. However, there are important differences. While my contact with my current employer was through acquaintances I met at the sweat lodge, my spiritual path is not part of my job function, even though I work for a First Nations organization. Some co-workers attend ceremonies, the vast majority do not. Our employment is not predicated on a religious or spiritual adherence in any way. Some of my friends are regular attendees at the sweat lodge and other ceremonies, most are not. Unlike my time in Boston, I enjoy many different circles of friends. Some are spiritual, some atheist, some agnostic, and some are proudly Christian. Yes, my closer friendships tend to be with those I attend ceremonies such as the sweat lodge with, but my social circles are not as exclusive to one faith path as they once were.
The realization that something as bedrock in life as faith is, especially when it is intertwined with almost every other aspect of one’s life, can be an incredibly frightening experience. It’s why so many people stick with faith paths they no longer find valid or true for them, I believe. Fear is one of the strongest motivators out there and like fire, it can be both friend and foe–often at the same time. Taking the leap of faith to leave all and follow one’s conscience is a step many will never take. I had it easy; I had a financial infrastructure in place so I could leave my job, and a spiritual/emotional supporting infrastructure growing around me so I could move away from Christian Science–I had supportive friends, even if they didn’t always understand what I had been through. All of this support made a difficult decision easier for me. Not everybody has those advantages, I know this; and not a day goes by that I am not extremely grateful for what I’ve been given.
“Not everyone will have that support. For those who don’t, dark days lie ahead. But there is life on the other side. There are people there, some of whom have gone through exactly what you’re going through, and I challenge you to start hunting for those people now. Make some new friends. Maybe even travel to see them if you have to, but whatever it takes, build for yourself a network of people who do not need you to think the same way as they do in order to accept you into their group.” 2
I know it’s easy for me to say, “take the leap,” as I do from the comfortable happy place where I am now. But, even if it means you do end up alone for awhile; even if you do go through some dark days, it’s worth the price for your own mental health. Misery, anger, and conflict are toxic. If you don’t have a support network, find one, make one. It can be done, and it’s worth the effort. The right people to support you are out there, and with social media it’s easy to find them. Through social media, I have found a tremendous network of former Christian Scientists who understand what I’ve been through in ways nobody else could never do. Even though I have yet to meet most of them in-person, some of them have become good friends. All you have to do is reach out; or like me, you can start your own blog too! The more, the merrier. There is life on the other side, as Mr. Godless says, and it is wonderful! As a last word, I will say that if you are a Christian Scientist out there, wanting to take that leap, e-mail me. I’ll connect you with folks who know the path you’re on, or I’ll listen to you and give that knowing nod.
1 “The High Cost of Leaving Your Faith”. Godless in Dixie. 7 December 2013. Web. 11 December 2013. <http://godlessindixie.com/2013/12/07/the-high-cost-of-leaving-your-faith/>