All posts by Tony

Dark Night – The NPCs

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Dark Night

For an  explanation as to why I have a row of Mormon boys as my header image, please see the footnotes 😉

In my last post, Theophilus*, I described how I feel like I am about to embark on another Dark Night of the Soul. While I could be wrong, of course, I did describe it as such because I felt I recognised the signs of its approach.

In the comments for that post, regular reader Jeremy suggested I try to blog a little on what my thoughts are, which would be helpful and interesting. I think that really is an excellent idea, because that then means that someone with a keen observational mind and an analytical brain (me!) would be making those observations and writing them down for others. The only downside to the idea is that the Dark Night might involve taking time off blogging or even taking time off thinking and observing too much. Sometimes the idea of the Dark Night is to take time off of having any commitments at all, so, subject to those caveats, I will do what I can. And I’m going to make it into a ‘series’ so as to keep the posts indexed in some fashion.

Let me make it clear right from the start that this Dark Night is not some form of depression or other mental illness. It is a normal and healthy part of spiritual growth, and, because I have been through it before, I am genuinely looking forward to the experience itself and also to the fruits it will produce. Granted, I am still heartsick from my loss of Fiona – even though that’s now 28 months ago – but this is a different thing entirely. This is spiritual, not emotional, and going through times like this only serves to highlight the difference.

Now, to my observations.

The primary observation at the present time is this: this particular Dark Night has been-precipitated, as was my first one, as a result of interactions with nasty grey legalistic people, my reactions to them, and the need to change my attitudes in my dealings with them. So, dealing with these people. And I need to spend time away from them. Fortunately, unlike those who have these people in their immediate families, I have the luxury of being able to remove myself from them.

My son refers to these people as NPCs. ‘Non-Player Characters’, you know, like in a video game. Every time you approach one of these in-game characters, they act all familiar and ‘Hey how are you, buddy?’ like they’ve known your game character all his life. If you come back to them in-game after half an hour or so, they say the exact same thing – because of course they are programmed to. And that’s what these people are like; they are programmed with all the ‘right phrases’ that they trot out willy-nilly and – more worryingly – they also have all the same programmed attitudes. It’s almost as if they have no colour; no personality. The NPCs. What a great analogy.

As my readers will know, about twenty years ago, my first Dark Night began, in which I avoided all church things like I would Flat Earthers 😉 Every time I went in a church, it reminded me of why I didn’t! That Dark Night lasted fifteen years as I was detoxed from all the harmful attitudes that my twenty-one years as an Evangelical Fundamentalist had given me.

Five years ago, I had a dramatic re-entry into the ‘things of God’ (although I was never really away from Him per se) and He has carried me through losing Fiona and all kinds of other stuff. And my faith life blossomed.

But recently something in me has just snapped. I have so had enough of the NPCs who take it upon themselves to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…whatever happened to ‘mind your own business’? And these people cast such a bad light on my wonderful Jesus and my Father God…and I have to make this observation that at present I feel that if I never go into a church meeting again it will be too soon. That, for me, is a characteristic of a Dark Night experience. In a way, being with other Christians – at least in a large meeting – is such a ‘trigger’ for me that it can be harmful. Also, being Aspergic does not help in this regard; I can think of many places I’d rather be than in a room with lots of people!

I’m not saying that people at my Church are NPCs; they’re not. They are lovely. And I know for a fact that part of what Father is doing with me at the moment is that He’s not asking me to go to Church, so in a way it’s almost as if that lack of Church prompting from Father suggets that He’s the One Who’s leading me into the Dark Night – and that would come as no surprise to me. And in a lot of ways I have been at this point for a long while, not having been to the main Church meeting for about eighteen months, although I was in a housegroup for a while (it recently came to an end; not my fault, I hasten to add!)

Regarding the NPCs, it’s always the same. If there are two possible interpretations of a Scripture, these people would always rather swing towards the ‘bad’ interpretation and call it ‘loving’, rather than swing towards the actually ‘loving’ interpretation. And coming up against this constantly has made it so that I’ve so had enough of them. I am so sick of religious people like these, and as a sad corollary to that, I am avoiding all things to do with faith at all, because there are just so many triggers. I’m staying off Facebook because there are people on there whom I care about but who also have a list of NPC ‘friends’ as long as your arm, who trot out the same programmed crap in response to my friends’ posts again and again. I just need a rest from it all, and that might take fifteen days, or it might take fifteen years again.

To quote my reply to one of my friends on Facebook, whose post was being ripped at by grey** NPC miseries,

But the truth of it is that I have had enough of these people. Completely had enough. From now on, it’s an instant block from me. We are giving dogs what is sacred and they simply turn and tear us to pieces. From now on, my job is to minister to the people whom these nasties would seek to destroy, while ignoring and blocking the nasty ones. These are deadly, grey, dull people who spread a gospel of horror, hate and lies, and I’ve had enough of them. There is enough poison in life in general without people like these, who claim to represent a loving god, from bringing even more toxicity. Enough is enough. Let them wallow in the mud of their shipwrecks.

(And that’s partly where my recent post. ‘Shipwrecks‘, came from)

One such grey person thusly replied to my exhortation to reconsider the doctrine of Hell:

“Don’t need to. Hell is forever. You don’t make the rules. God does. Your job is to obey, not figure out God’s logic.”

Case in point. Cold, grey, dull, lifeless. In fact the voice of the Pharisee is always cold, lifeless, grey, dry, dusty and joyless. By their fruits you shall know them (or in this case, the lack thereof)

Remember:

Dry

Dusty

Grey

Cold

Joyless

Lifeless

Jesus spoke of them as tombs – whitewashed tombs. Lookin’ good on the outside; full of rot and corruption inside. And these are the people who accuse all mankind of being ‘unregenerate sinners…’ for goodness’ sake! If your life looks like that, you need to get it sorted. But then, if your life looks like that, you probably are not reading this because you will have consigned my blog to the heresy pile long ago!

Another key phrase, when given a joke that falls outside the lines of what their group think acceptable, is ‘We don’t think it’s funny’.

Like this one, for example:

“We don’t think it’s funny”, they would say***. Who’s ‘we’? That sort of prohibition only has power when there’s a group of them all agreeing with each other, and presumably nodding sagely, and they find like-minded miseries to sit with.

Even talking to these people is a downer. This is not what the kingdom of God is about! If it’s not righteousness, peace and joy, then it’s not the Kingdom of God.

And I find, as a direct result of my interactions with grey NPCs, that when I’m reading my Bible, my reading voice – you know, the voice that I hear in my head as I read – sounds just like the grey NPCs. And so, unless I feel particularly inspired, I do not go to the Bible all that often. True, when I do get such inspiration, that voice is absent…maybe the lesson there is to not read the Bible unless that voice is absent… This is another of the signs of the Dark Night, and obviously one I have learned from already! 😀

Another thing is that, in some ways, I don’t feel as close to God as I normally do. I know He’s there; I still feel the Spirit burning inside. Or maybe that’s indigestion. And worship means little; once again, I can hardly bear to hear the Songs of Heaven. These are two more of my signs of an impending Dark Night.

I think that one of the main things I am looking for in this Dark Night (although of course Father probably has other plans!) is that I need to learn how to deal with the Grey People. The NPCs. If indeed there is any dealing with them. By ‘dealing with’ them, I mean how I personally deal with the effects of interfacing with them on a theological level. Certainly we’re not going to change them; not that I would want to – that’s not my job! And indeed, this brings me to another point about the NPCs and how to cope with them, and it’s this.

When we criticise the judgemental, their standard response is always [predictably] “Ah, but now you’re judging me!” It seems to be the privilege of the judgemental that, although they started it, still they think we are wrong to point out their judgementalism; that we are ourselves being judgemental in our pronouncements against their judgementalism. I sometimes think that they set these things up just specifically for that purpose. He who accuses first has the upper hand, it seems!

Talk about a no-win situation!

So, how do we solve this conundrum? How do we tell these people what they are doing without ourselves being judgemental, or even giving them the excuse to say that we are being judgemental? Is it even possible?

I’m 56 years old and I am still unaware of an answer. Maybe that’s something I will learn in this Dark Night. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

And please be aware that I am actually not blaming the NPCs; all I am doing is to describe how their actions and my responses/triggers have precipitated this new Dark Night. For others, their own entry into a Dark Night will be highly individual, and indeed probably unique to that person. Also, I have not been forced into this ‘course of action’ by these people, because a) it is not my choice anyway, and b) they are not that powerful. The main thing is my response to their trigger reaction in me; that’s what I need to work on.

This may well read like a rant, and I do not apologise for that. What I need to show, above all else in this series, is honesty. Because it will be of no use to my readers if it’s not honest.

And anyway I am allowed to rant. There are no rules in a Dark Night! 😉

I hope this is helpful.

Peace and Grace to you all.


*Pirated from St. Luke in Acts 1:1 😉

**What’s all this about ‘grey’ people? Well, one of the characteristics of being in a religious cult (which I believe Evangelical Christianity is) is that everyone has to be the same; everyone has to believe the same things, have the same sense of humour (none) and all that sort of thing. Imagine a group of Mormon missionaries lined up for a game of ‘Spot the Difference’ and you’ll get what I mean. And that explains the header image (it’s actually taken from a Broadway show called ‘Book of Mormon’ – and they’re not real Mormons; they’re actors...) 😉

(Not saying Mormons are NPCs; I don’t personally know any so I can’t say. But their missionaries, at least, do all dress the same and will therefore do for the purposes of illustration).

And so, despite each NPC being technically an individual, in terms of faith they are not; there is no colour, no variety, nothing interesting going on. Hence, grey.

[Edit: Apparently, the term ‘NPC’ is nowadays common parlance for people who always say the same, predictable things. Shows how far behind the times I am]

***Clue: YMCA 😉


 

30

The Dark Night Beckons…

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Dark Night

As my regular readers will be aware, I am a strong advocate of the idea of the ‘Stages of Faith‘, which is a loose set of ideas describing the way in which some of us humans grow and change in our spiritual lives.

One of the Stages of Faith is of course the ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘, which is where God takes a believer into a place where old ideas and preconceptions are challenged and often deconstructed. Once this period is completed, the believer emerges into a new ‘era’, if you will, of freedom and light in the Spirit. As such, the Dark Night is therefore to be welcomed and, even though it might not always be pleasant, the blessings are nonetheless real.

But the Dark Night is not always, nor indeed is it usually, a ‘one-off’ experience. Several times in a believer’s life, God might need to take that person aside for a discussion and contemplation of that person’s belief systems, attitudes, or whatever.

And I, personally, am beginning to enter another Dark Night. I am recognising the signs. Despite the lovely and sympathetic best wishes of my online friends, however, I actually relish the opportunity, because personal growth in God is one of my primary ongoing objectives. My appetite for new learning is insatiable, and in the Dark Night, we learn more about God, His secrets, and the way things work, than at any other time.

In practical terms, this means that my blog posts may or may not be intermittent from now on. I may not even do my monthly ‘Fiona’ articles on the 25th of each month. I would think also that those articles in which I present my own thoughts and ideas will be rarer, and as part of this Dark Night involves a general staying away from my usual external channels of fresh thoughts and concepts, I might not be getting ideas for blog posts from others all that often either. At the very least, others’ posts will be featuring more than my ‘own’. I have been writing this blog now for almost four years, and my output has been reasonably constant. But I don’t want to give my readers poor-quality articles that are not grounded in my deep convictions and deep thinking; I don’t want to short-change you. But, who knows? Maybe this season in my life might bring forth a torrent of inspiration…well, we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess!

So, there we have it. I am excited to see what God has in store for me over this next season, and I look forward to sharing the fruits of it with my readers in due course. It may take a few weeks, it may take a few years – although I would hope the latter is not the case. I just thought I’d better let you know ‘where I’m at’, because I cherish my readership, both those who comment and those who are the silent listeners; you are all welcome and all part of my journey. And I don’t want you to think I have abandoned you!

Peace and Grace to you all 🙂

20

The Not So Good News

Here’s a great piece by my friend Dave Griffiths:


The Evangelical ‘gospel’ so many of us believed and served for years is not much good news.

The lesson I was taught, which is being reinforced around the world all the time, is that we are essentially bad, and if we ask Jesus to be our saviour, he will save us from a bad place we will go to when we die. God is Holy and so cannot have dirty sinners in his heaven. Someone had to be punished very badly for us to be forgiven. That someone was Jesus – hence he is the saviour.

I’d almost go so far as to say that this is an ‘anti-christ’ message.

Christ means ‘anointed one’. What was the ‘anointed one’ sent to show us? How to bind broken hearts, open blind eyes, and share good news with the poor. This is good news for everyone. This is what Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue at the start of his ministry (Lk 4:18), quoting from Isaiah (Is 61:1).

So, being a CHRISTian is actually about becoming like Christ. Doing all that good stuff. We get to unmask and dethrone the powers of the world that are built on evil ways. We get to see the divine economy (Kingdom of God) shared among us.

We get to be possessed by the Holy Spirit and made more and more compassionate, forgiving, empathetic, nonviolent and non-judgemental.

Paul grasped this. John grasped it too. Peter to an extent. I reckon the Marys were probably way ahead of them.

I’m so sick of the message from the mainline church that basically destroys your sense of Christ within you and makes you a grovelling wretch that pleads with an angry god to forgive you because you’re covered in Christ’s blood. All you are is sorry, and then you try all your life to please god by behaving better. Well, that isn’t good news.

We don’t get to live for God. We get to live as God, and in God.

Friends. Reject all the negative, false gospel that tell you and everyone else that they are not worthy. You are and always have been. Made in God’s own image. You are invited to more and more love and goodness by simply discovering what you already have.

– rant over.

Shalom.


 

10

Religious Trauma Syndrome

As you have probably guessed from other articles on my blog, I have a strong interest in helping people to come to terms with large changes in their spiritual lives. These changes can be due to divorce, bereavement, spiritual growth and its associated ‘growing pains’, or more sinister things like dealing with spiritual abuse and religious trauma, where people are either trapped (knowingly or unknowingly) in spiritual abuse systems – which are loosely described in this article –  or where they have broken free from such systems and are having to cope with the trauma of what is essentially a major loss of part of one’s life.

This post, by Dr. Valerie Tarico, is quoted from the RawStory site, and the link to the original article is given at the end. In this article, Dr. Tarico quotes much from Dr. Marlene Winnell, who is a human development consultant, and who first used the term ‘Religious Trauma Syndrome’. Unsurprisingly, her use of the term made waves, most likely (my guess, anyway) amongst people who didn’t want their abusive ways brought to light. Here’s the article in full, with original links intact insofar as they work. Note that the title refers only to some, not all, organised religion.


Religious Trauma Syndrome: How some organized religion leads to mental health problems

At age sixteen I began what would be a four-year struggle with bulimia.  When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister.  “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said.  “It will be done.” I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers.

But my horrible compulsions didn’t go away. By the fall of my sophomore year in college, I was desperate and depressed enough that I made a suicide attempt. The problem wasn’t just the bulimia.  I was convinced by then that I was a complete spiritual failure. My college counseling department had offered to get me real help (which they later did). But to my mind, at that point, such help couldn’t fix the core problem: I was a failure in the eyes of God. It would be years before I understood that my inability to heal bulimia through the mechanisms offered by biblical Christianity was not a function of my own spiritual deficiency but deficiencies in Evangelical religion itself.

Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Area. She is also the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. This combination has given her work an unusual focus. For the past twenty years she has counseled men and women in recovery from various forms of fundamentalist religion including the Assemblies of God denomination in which she was raised. Winell is the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion, written during her years of private practice in psychology. Over the years, Winell has provided assistance to clients whose religious experiences were even more damaging than mine. Some of them are people whose psychological symptoms weren’t just exacerbated by their religion, but actually caused by it.

Two years ago, Winell made waves by formally labeling what she calls “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) and beginning to write and speak on the subject for professional audiences. When the British Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists published a series of articles on the topic, members of a Christian counseling association protested what they called excessive attention to a “relatively niche topic.” One commenter said, “A religion, faith or book cannot be abuse but the people interpreting can make anything abusive.”

Is toxic religion simply misinterpretation? What is religious trauma? Why does Winell believe religious trauma merits its own diagnostic label?  I asked her.

Let’s start this interview with the basics. What exactly is religious trauma syndrome?

Winell: Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group. The RTS label provides a name and description that affected people often recognize immediately. Many other people are surprised by the idea of RTS, because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. Just like telling kids about Santa Claus and letting them work out their beliefs later, people see no harm in teaching religion to children.

But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. As Journalist Janet Heimlich has documented in, Breaking Their Will, Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.

But the problem isn’t just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black and white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.

Can you give me an example of RTS from your consulting practice?

Winell: I can give you many. One of the symptom clusters is around fear and anxiety. People indoctrinated into fundamentalist Christianity as small children sometimes have memories of being terrified by images of hell and apocalypse before their brains could begin to make sense of such ideas. Some survivors, who I prefer to call “reclaimers,” have flashbacks, panic attacks, or nightmares in adulthood even when they intellectually no longer believe the theology. One client of mine, who during the day functioned well as a professional, struggled with intense fear many nights. She said,

“I was afraid I was going to hell. I was afraid I was doing something really wrong. I was completely out of control. I sometimes would wake up in the night and start screaming, thrashing my arms, trying to rid myself of what I was feeling. I’d walk around the house trying to think and calm myself down, in the middle of the night, trying to do some self-talk, but I felt like it was just something that – the fear and anxiety was taking over my life”.

Or consider this comment, which refers to a film used by Evangelicals to warn about the horrors of the “end times” for nonbelievers.

“I was taken to see the film “A Thief In The Night”. WOW. I am in shock to learn that many other people suffered the same traumas I lived with because of this film. A few days or weeks after the film viewing, I came into the house and mom wasn’t there. I stood there screaming in terror. When I stopped screaming, I began making my plan: Who my Christian neighbors were, whose house to break into to get money and food. I was 12 yrs old and was preparing for Armageddon alone”.

In addition to anxiety, RTS can include depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning. In fundamentalist Christianity, the individual is considered depraved and in need of salvation. A core message is “You are bad and wrong and deserve to die.” (The wages of sin is death.) This gets taught to millions of children through organizations like Child Evangelism Fellowship, and there is a group organized  to oppose their incursion into public schools.  I’ve had clients who remember being distraught when given a vivid bloody image of Jesus paying the ultimate price for their sins. Decades later they sit telling me that they can’t manage to find any self-worth.

“After twenty-seven years of trying to live a perfect life, I failed. . . I was ashamed of myself all day long. My mind battling with itself with no relief. . . I always believed everything that I was taught but I thought that I was not approved by God. I thought that basically I, too, would die at Armageddon.

“I’ve spent literally years injuring myself, cutting and burning my arms, taking overdoses and starving myself, to punish myself so that God doesn’t have to punish me. It’s taken me years to feel deserving of anything good.

“Born-again Christianity and devout Catholicism tell people they are weak and dependent, calling on phrases like “lean not unto your own understanding” or “trust and obey.” People who internalize these messages can suffer from learned helplessness. I’ll give you an example from a client who had little decision-making ability after living his entire life devoted to following the “will of God.” The words here don’t convey the depth of his despair.

“I have an awful time making decisions in general. Like I can’t, you know, wake up in the morning, “What am I going to do today? Like I don’t even know where to start. You know all the things I thought I might be doing are gone and I’m not sure I should even try to have a career; essentially I babysit my four-year-old all day”.

Authoritarian religious groups are subcultures where conformity is required in order to belong. Thus if you dare to leave the religion, you risk losing your entire support system as well.

“I lost all my friends. I lost my close ties to family. Now I’m losing my country. I’ve lost so much because of this malignant religion and I am angry and sad to my very core. . . I have tried hard to make new friends, but I have failed miserably. . . I am very lonely”.

Leaving a religion, after total immersion, can cause a complete upheaval of a person’s construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, and the future. People unfamiliar with this situation, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create.

“My form of religion was very strongly entrenched and anchored deeply in my heart. It is hard to describe how fully my religion informed, infused, and influenced my entire worldview. My first steps out of fundamentalism were profoundly frightening and I had frequent thoughts of suicide. Now I’m way past that but I still haven’t quite found “my place in the universe”.

Even for a person who was not so entrenched, leaving one’s religion can be a stressful and significant transition.

Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily, without really looking back. What is different about the clientele you work with?

Winell: Religious groups that are highly controlling, teach fear about the world, and keep members sheltered and ill-equipped to function in society are harder to leave easily. The difficulty seems to be greater if the person was born and raised in the religion rather than joining as an adult convert. This is because they have no frame of reference – no other “self” or way of “being in the world.” A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.

Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways?

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

In your mind, how is RTS different from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Winell: RTS is a specific set of symptoms and characteristics that are connected with harmful religious experience, not just any trauma. This is crucial to understanding the condition and any kind of self-help or treatment. (More details about this can be found on my Journey Free website and discussed in my talk at the Texas Freethought Convention.)

Another difference is the social context, which is extremely different from other traumas or forms of abuse. When someone is recovering from domestic abuse, for example, other people understand and support the need to leave and recover. They don’t question it as a matter of interpretation, and they don’t send the person back for more. But this is exactly what happens to many former believers who seek counseling. If a provider doesn’t understand the source of the symptoms, he or she may send a client for pastoral counseling, or to AA, or even to another church. One reclaimer expressed her frustration this way:

“Include physically-abusive parents who quote “Spare the rod and spoil the child” as literally as you can imagine and you have one fucked-up soul: an unloved, rejected, traumatized toddler in the body of an adult. I’m simply a broken spirit in an empty shell. But wait…That’s not enough!? There’s also the expectation by everyone in society that we victims should celebrate this with our perpetrators every Christmas and Easter!!”

Just like disorders such as autism or bulimia, giving RTS a real name has important advantages. People who are suffering find that having a label for their experience helps them feel less alone and guilty. Some have written to me to express their relief:

“There’s actually a name for it! I was brainwashed from birth and wasted 25 years of my life serving Him! I’ve since been out of my religion for several years now, but i cannot shake the haunting fear of hell and feel absolutely doomed. I’m now socially inept, unemployable, and the only way i can have sex is to pay for it”.

Labeling RTS encourages professionals to study it more carefully, develop treatments, and offer training. Hopefully, we can even work on prevention.

What do you see as the difference between religion that causes trauma and religion that doesn’t?

Winell: Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.

Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. The book, Healthy Religion, describes these traits. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals.  They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule. More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.

Some people say that terms like “recovery from religion” and “religious trauma syndrome” are just atheist attempts to pathologize religious belief.

Winell: Mental health professionals have enough to do without going out looking for new pathology. I never set out looking for a “niche topic,” and certainly not religious trauma syndrome. I originally wrote a paper for a conference of the American Psychological Association and thought that would be the end of it. Since then, I have tried to move on to other things several times, but this work has simply grown.

In my opinion, we are simply, as a culture, becoming aware of religious trauma.  More and more people are leaving religion, as seen by polls showing that the “religiously unaffiliated” have increased in the last five years from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. It’s no wonder the internet is exploding with websites for former believers from all religions, providing forums for people to support each other. The huge population of people “leaving the fold” includes a subset at risk for RTS, and more people are talking about it and seeking help.  For example, there are thousands of former Mormons, and I was asked to speak about RTS at an Exmormon Foundation conference.  I facilitate an international support group online called Release and Reclaim  which has monthly conference calls. An organization called Recovery from Religion, helps people start self-help meet-up groups

Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy? No, before that we weren’t noticing. People were suffering, thought they were alone, and blamed themselves.  Professionals had no awareness or training. This is the situation of RTS today. Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.

—-  Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their ReligionMore information about Marlene Winell and resources for getting help with RTS may be found at Journey Free.  Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

 

Here is the link to the original article

00

Tasty Treats

Any gospel message that instils fear in your heart, is probably not the gospel, but the ministry of death Paul warned us about. – Henry Harris

God is not a being to believe in. God is a mystery to participate in. – Nathan Jennings

The idea we need to fear God, always comes from people that don’t know God. – Kurt and Katy Adkins

“I think the reaction we’re meant to have when we look at the cross is to weep with relief — that there’s someone who understands our sufferings and dealt with it” – Christine

If your goal is to share what you know, to teach people what you know, to make people understand what you understand—if it’s about a subject for which you have passion and concern—then speak to that end.

When you degrade, when you yell, when you vituperate, you can no longer feign that you have a noble pursuit. You’re speaking from your ego, from your sense of superiority, you’re asserting your dominance.

Now, the subject for which you allegedly feel so strongly is on the back burner, and the entire conversation is about winning an argument that you created.

The person to whom you’re speaking has been lost, and will not consider what you know, share, or care about.

Watch your step, and be sure you’re speaking for the right reasons. – Steven Gilmore

I have learnt that to love is so much more important than trying to convince others of my belief. Knowing that all will be well in the end has given me such freedom to be with others whatever they believe. I have found that my attempts to show love encourages hope in others to a far greater extent than was ever achieved when I tried to tell people what was right. – David Bell

For all the criticism [a particular Christian ‘leader’] has had, I think it’s great that he answers to what his own conscience says, rather than to what others think his conscience should say. – Me

Movements

Religious and spiritual movements both tend to come and go, with only Divine Presence remaining constant.

May I respectfully make a suggestion, one born out of personal experience.

Don’t pour your whole identity into a movement, no matter what the brand.

Why not?

Well, it all usually ends up in tears, disillusionment and deep confusion.

Best to open up one’s heart to the One without change, I reckon.

– Dylan Morrison (Irish writer-poet)

As to why people deny [evolution], though, well that’s just fear that their written Divine Contract might not be as watertight as they thought. And I think that’s intentional; God never intended us to live by faith in a Book, but by faith in Christ. If the book is infallible, then who needs the Holy Spirit? – Me

Jesus came to show us the Father’s love, not threaten us with eternal conscious torment for hearing bad preaching & saying no to THAT god. – Karen Belcher

There is only one thing that could ever make a person say “I love you” to a god they believe finds them deplorable without seeing them through someone else… and that is fear of torment.

Your heavenly Father doesn’t need to look at you ‘through’ Jesus to be head over heels in love with you. He sent Jesus to show you who you’ve been in His eyes all along… and that there is never any fear or torment involved in His perfect love.

“May they know they are One, Father, even as you and I are One; and may they know you have loved them… even as you have loved me.” (Jesus)  – Dave Carringer

In fact I would even say that, unless you really believe that you know ‘…where you would go if you died tonight’, then you have absolutely no right to try to sell people the salvation that Jesus offers as if it is indeed a complete, cast-iron assurance, when the reality is that you yourself don’t really believe it is as secure as you claim. Because that sort of gospel, that so many peddle these days, is really no gospel – not good news – at all. – Me

The Bible is not the Holy Spirit’s bridle – Barry Smith

“Ah, but…what about this scripture and that scripture…” yes and it’s always – always! – the negative they are emphasising. It’s really weird. It’s always ‘God is Love, but he’s also just…’, never ‘God is just, but he’s also Love!’ Anyone’d think they don’t want to believe anything positive about God! – Me

Saying “You’re not saved by good works, you’re saved by grace, but you have to prove you’re saved by doing good works” is just a clever way of saying you’re saved by good works and acting like you’re not saying it. – Jacob M. Wright

I don’t have any proof of this. But…

It seems often, as if the people who argue over doctrinal differences, and go about calling those they disagree with names, are coming from inferiority and poor self-esteem, and trying to make themselves appear “right”, knowledgeable, and believable.

When I sense that this is happening, 1) it makes me very uncomfortable, and 2) I feel very sorry for that person. Usually I walk away asap and am careful about future interactions with them. – Sonny Bellotte

Today, be the sort of person whose kindness, compassion and love could be the difference between someone losing their faith in God and the humans he calls children, and them saying, “Eh, I think I’ll give it one more try.”

All the arguments you might win, or energy you might expend ranting on social media, are meaningless compared to this. – Jeff Turner

“There is no more important issue than whether or not the large majority of the human race is heading for a fate that … would make the holocaust look like a joke.” – Jacob Wright

“I choose not to succumb to my circumstances, and become angry at the idea of existence, I choose not to be a person who sees every moment as an opportunity to be disappointed by life—a victim with no options.

Rather, I choose to see myself as one being pursued relentlessly by goodness and mercy. I choose to see opportunities for myself to advance, excel, and be the best possible version of me. I choose to see valuable lessons in my daily interactions with people and events.

I choose to see goodness and mercy all around me—seeking access to my life and family today. I choose to see myself as one entangled in a divine conspiracy in which all that is in the world is seeking to make me better. “ – Charlie Fischer

If all you know of God is from books, you are walking in deep darkness – Don Francisco

Once you realize you can hear your Father’s Spirit for yourself, speaking in a voice you clearly understand… no man or institution can ever control your life again. Run free and enjoy your Father’s love… and don’t be entangled in the yoke of man’s bondage ever again. Wake up to your genesis. You were born free. Live in that freedom… and don’t ever look back. – Dave Carringer

 

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In So Many Ways…

This entry is part 36 of 36 in the series Fiona

Two-and-a-quarter years ago today, I lost the love of my life to cancer. Fiona was my soul-mate and my best friend; the only person who really ‘got’ me with my weird Aspie traits, and she was the most gentle, kind-hearted and Christlike person I ever met. What a privilege it was for me to be married to such a lady!

And we think about her daily. Not a day goes by without I have a happy memory of her; the way she was, and especially the things she would have found funny. Fiona found so much joy in life; so much to laugh at. To illustrate the point, here is a very blurred picture of Fiona laughing at something our grand-daughter Lucy was doing.

It’s blurred because the camera shutter speed was slow (the lighting was poor) and because Fiona was laughing and moving her head, but it illustrates her wacky sense of humour. You see, Lucy is holding a Chocolate Orange, and that particular confection is composed of twenty segments of orange-flavoured chocolate which you traditionally tap on a hard surface in order to separate the segments, before you unwrap the orange, so that you can eat the pieces one by one. However Lucy hadn’t heard about that bit, and so she’d taken the chocolate out of its wrapper and tried to get the whole thing in her mouth at once. Fiona’s reaction is easily visible despite the picture being blurred 😀

Even now, and usually on a daily basis, we (my daughter Ellie and I) laugh at many things, and often say to each other, ‘Mum would have found that hilarious’. Because she would. I’ve just thought: if there is indeed a Judgement Day video where all our life is played back in Blu-Ray quality, mine and Fiona’s is going to be bloody hilarious… 😀

I often notice habits or attitudes that I have, which were put there by Fiona, just by her being herself and being such a great lady. There are things that I notice each day, like those funny things or those attitudes, or maybe little trinkets decorating the house, or maybe a certain arrangement of furniture, but things that remind me of her. Things that we still do that she too loved to do, like going out places and going for walks, things like that. It all reminds us of Fiona.

In so many ways, then, much of who Fiona was is still with us, and while it is of course painful for us when these things remind us of her loss, still, what we do in these circumstances is to remember her with joy – which we do without even trying – and in that way her legacy of goodness, love, joy, wisdom and laughter will never be lost. It’s kind of bittersweet, I suppose.

I have also learned, and I continue to learn, huge amounts about the vast wisdom and love of God in situations like ours. I have endeavoured to share with my readers as much of this wisdom as I can, or at least, as much of it as is communicable, and as much as is not personal revelation that is not for others. I am increasingly aware that death is not the end; I know this because God has given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of my inheritance – I can feel the Spirit there all the time; I live in a constant awareness of the Presence of God – and because He has shown me that this is the case. And so, on that level, I am confident that I will see Fiona again; because I know that Jesus has conquered death, and because I know that I died with Him and therefore I will also live with Him (Rom 6:8; 2Tim 2:11).

It’s just that I miss her so much now, right now. I still dream about her most nights. I still miss the light of her presence in the house. And yet still I have that unshakable hope: I will see her again in Glory.

You see, God is present in everything; all of Creation is shot through with His sustaining power and His amazing creative energy; His love, His bubbling enthusiasm. And all Creation worships Him in response (Ps 66:4; Ps 19:1). The entire universe is infused with His presence; what David said in Psalm 139:7 is true –

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?”

…amongst other things (read the psalm; you will get what I mean) – God is just so vast, huge, great and incomprehensible.

Given that God is so bubbling with Life and Love, how can I doubt that everything that Fiona was is somehow taken to be incorporated into that incredible Presence? If I can feel that Presence now, even as weakly as this body allows, how much more will Fiona, in that Place beyond all places, be soaking in the immediate, overwhelming Power of God? I think that’s awesome, and the reality of that concept is part of what sustains me. After nearly 40 years of walking with Jesus, I have learned sufficiently of His ways and His truth to know that He’s so much more amazing, so much more wonderful, than I can possibly imagine. And because of that, I know Fiona’s in the very safest of hands, and that I, one day, will go and join her there, and I will never need to miss her again. And what a day that will be! 😀


Header picture shows Fiona meeting Lucy for the first time, once Lucy had been brought home from the maternity unit.

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That Same Jesus

“The One to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess is none other than the One who dined with, forgave, liberated, and healed sinners. The One who will judge the world is none other than the One who bound up broken hearts and freed the oppressed, who said to the adulteress “I don’t condemn you.” It’s the same One. Jesus the compassionate and merciful does not morph into Jesus the hateful and condemning. Jesus, the One who said in order to be like God we need to forgive our enemies, saying that if we don’t then we are no better than the pagans, will not one day act like a pagan deity.

“The One who died at the hands of his enemies with forgiveness on his lips is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If you believe we are in between two different Jesus’s, gospel Jesus and future Jesus, enemy-forgiving Jesus and enemy-decapitating Jesus, then you might want to re-examine your theology, in particular your eschatology and understanding of judgment and the symbolism of Revelation. The lion is a little slain lamb, his power is his humble love, the way he wages war is by making peace through the cross. His wrath is his lamb-likeness, he destroys the powers of evil by being slain. He is the antithesis of the violent and forceful means by which the world has its way. He subverts it all.”

– Jacob M. Wright

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Shipwrecks

I’ve just been reading a Facebook thread where yet another miserable, grey-personality, dour Christian has been pushing the Bad News instead of the Good. And that in response to a bright, joyful, faith-and-light-filled post by a friend of mine who understands the nature of Grace.

This grey Christian writes like someone who, given two apparently contradictory Scripture passages, would always want to swing towards the passage expressing the idea that God is a total git, rather than our loving Heavenly Father. I really don’t know why these people remain Christians…

In fact, despite having once been similar to that tragic soul myself, once upon a time – although never as grey and dull! – I actually wonder how I, and others like me, can ever get through to these people. Where do we begin expressing the huge, vast, freeing, life-changing revolution in our faith that we have undergone? How do we even begin to describe the vastness of our freedom in Christ that we have discovered, to those still trapped between the (probably leather) covers of their Book?

Or maybe we can’t get through to them. For me, it took fifteen years, and then a subsequent powerful move of the Spirit, to break me free from the clinging mud of my legalism and Biblical infallibility, inerrancy and literalism. Maybe only God can shift their shipwrecks from the muddy, silted sea bed and lift them to the surface and into the sunlight.

Certainly, as far as the Stages of Faith go, each person whom God leads through the Stages (and it’s not everyone by any means), has to go through it in their own time and at their own pace. This is because each person had their own spiritual baggage that needs to be sorted out on an individual basis.

So, maybe we can’t get through to these hidebound characters. I’m sure God can, but the other thing is that I personally am not convinced about the ‘power’ of prayer, at least prayer ‘for others’. So, again, does He do these things in His own time? I suppose He does.

This is all pretty deep, but I had to get this off my chest today. I don’t engage with these grey people any more; all they do is to try to drag others back down into the ooze in which they sit.

And I’m not going there ever again.

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He is Enough!

As I’m sure you have too, I’ve seen people that might be referred to as ‘thrill surfers’; people who go from one Christian event to another in order to ‘get zapped’ by the power of God, or for some other spiritual thrill. But there’s no need for that; everything we need is ours already, in Jesus (2Pet 1:3; Lk 15:31). Here’s Jamie Engelhart on the topic, ‘He is Enough’.


When I was younger and still not clear on my sonship and identity I ran from meeting to meeting, and conference to conference, and author to author, and prayer meeting to prayer meeting, and revival to revival. Also signing up for one charismatic conference promising freedom and wholeness to another looking for the next great revelation or gift or anointing and miracle, and none of it seemed to satisfy or settle me at rest. I was always still searching for the perfect leader, church, anointing, ministry, power and revelation and never really satisfied or settled in Christ.

Now I know much of that was my immaturity and I love when people have a great hunger for the Kingdom of God, but I realize now that it was not as much a hunger for the kingdom, but a lie that I believed that Jesus was not really my all in all, or my life. I was constantly chasing the carrot dangling in front of me believing the lie that there was something that I was deficient of and that I needed one more “breakthrough”, or I had to constantly strive to get to “the next level” and that there was always MORE especially at the beginning of every new year.

Even though I have been (past tense) blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing in Christ and been given ALL things that pertain to life and godliness, that it was still not enough. The problem with that way of thinking is that you never then become complete or whole in Him because there is always the allure of there has to be MORE than this. We then come up with our cute cliches and rhymes and our “word” for the year that many times just leads to more frustration, because we are still trying to attain what we have which ends up being unbelief and shipwrecks the faith of many.

This was THE LIE that got Adam and Eve removed from the garden. satan planted a lie in their minds that walking with God in the cool of the day in union and relationship as children with a Father was not enough, and that there was MORE, which produced in them a thought that what God had given them was not enough and that they were deficient in some way. It is also important to realize that what the serpent promised them they already had since they were already “LIKE” God, but the craftiness of the lie was to convince them that they had to become what they already were.

How else could he tempt someone who already had all they would ever need. I see wonderful people walking thru this process all the time, they go from church to church, conference to conference, revival to revival, looking for that experience or the “MORE” and it will continually lead them to frustration until they come to the realization that HE IS ENOUGH.

Now I pray that none of you misunderstand me, are there experiences and wonderful encounters and growth and revelation that God has for us along the way? Of course there are, but it is not about us attaining those things but receiving (greek= Lambano, or to take hold of) those things by faith that He has already blessed us with, but even those are not things that satisfy. I mean how many times are you going to fall on the floor, or shake under the power, or receive a healing, or miracle, or receive 50 prophetic words, or see a vision until you are complete and satisfied?

Signs and wonders are to follow us and anytime we follow them it is backwards and not the Kingdom. “The Lie” of the enemy and his strategy has never changed, and it is to get us always looking for more and never realizing what we already have. Jesus said,” if you drink of the water that I give then you will NEVER thirst again”, for now you are to become the source of supply to other thirsty ones for out of your innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.


Brilliant.

Here’s the link to the original article.

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“You Are Here”

“For centuries, there has a lot of ignorance and damage surrounding the interpretation of the Bible.

“Take Galileo’s conviction for heresy, for example. By his invention of the telescope over 400 years ago, Galileo contradicted religion’s doctrine of the earth as the center of the universe.

“With powerful telescopes today we can see so far into deep space that we can see the stars receding from us at nearly the speed of light itself. Our galaxy alone contains around 250 billion stars, and there are somewhere between 200 billion and 2 trillion galaxies in the part of the universe that we can see… (Counting is hard.)

“The Bible was never intended to be used as a scientific textbook, and attempts to make it one almost guarantee ridiculous conclusions. It never “taught” an earth-centered universe– religion did.

“The cosmos has turned out to be far larger and of greater complexity than anyone in ancient times imagined… and, consequently, so has God. When you read your Bible, try to think of such a vastly incomprehensible Creator becoming one of us on our little planet– just because he loves us and knew we desperately needed to know it… Then, allow the encrusted doctrines, curses, and fears that religion has saddled you with to begin to fall away… all those ideas and beliefs that prevent you from being who your heart says you are and enjoying your God-given life… and freely loving him.

“Creation itself is a testament, crafted by God Himself, and observing and learning from it will never be at odds with our faith.”

– Don Francisco

Link to original article on Facebook

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