8/26/2012 | Share this article: View CommentsBy ExCBooster ~
I'm not an ex-Christian, because I was never Christian in the first place, but I thought I'd write some encouragement in the form of a different perspective on the problem: not what it's like to leave, but what Christianity looks like from the outside looking in. Some personal background might be in order. Both of my parents were raised Catholic, and left Christianity long before they met or I was born, so I was not raised Christian at all, and they explicitly encouraged me to come to my own conclusions about philosophy or belief. I never see the inside of a church except for funerals or weddings, and because of family friends, I've been to as many Wicca, Hindu, or Jewish religious functions as anything else. Nevertheless, since I live in a society with a lot of Christians, and much of my extended family is Christian, I've had plenty of contact with the religion, and I thought I'd share a few anecdotes of what it's like to be on the outside looking in. To sum up, because this is a long, rambling thing: it looks to me to be completely loony, and a lot of the way Christians go about converting people ends up in the Completely Stupid and Deeply Offensive mental waste-bin.
When I was about nine years old, my best friend from ballet class was Catholic, and once I stayed the night at her house, from Saturday night over to Sunday – on the condition that I'd go to mass on Sunday morning. Parents were okay with it. I thought: great excuse to rock my best lacy summer dress. Stylin'. Sitting in the pew, looking around the church, I check out the stations of the cross (gruesome torture), and the giant crucifix up front and all. Altar. Bread (body) and wine (blood). Conclusions: the legends were true!! It's a human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism cult! Hardcore.
Flash forward, and in high school, I had a really fundamentalist classmate. He didn't believe in dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs. We got along well, until the Big Argument About the Flood. Some of his arguments were the strangest stuff I've ever heard in person (not in print). As I pointed out the utter insanity of these ideas – how do kinds of fish manage to drown, for example, or how there is no boat big enough to contain two of every species of insect alone, and what about New Mexican Whiptail Lizards, which are all female, and reproduce entirely by lesbian sex and cloning – he eventually fell back on the Bible. By that point, I had read it, cover to cover, and I told him, it's a book. Just a book. Nice mythology you've got there, but there's nothing about it that will magically make me believe it any more than any other people's book of mythology. It's why I don't go around worshipping Thor, for example, although he is a cool God, and has a whole day of the week named after him.
Skip ahead to college... and I had a very sheltered, home-schooled, Christian roommate senior year. She was in comparative religion and philosophy, and the cognitive dissonance was almost literally killing her. She stayed up all night worrying about things I never thought once about in my life. Things like: Jesus has already come, and all those people on remote Pacific islands are going to go to Hell if they've never heard of him. It was eating her alive. She asked me if I worried about them. I said, well, no. She looked shocked. I explained that I wasn't Christian, so I didn't believe all that. I figured that, if there is some uncontacted headhunting cannibal tribe of the kind that loomed large in her imagination, well, they've got their own belief system (is it really all that different?), and if it works out ethically, then that's cool too. She didn't even know how to handle that, and ended up huddling in her room in stunned silence. She once asked me if I didn't believe in the Bible being true, then how did I know what was right and what was wrong. I wanted to say: that's the most insultingly patronizing thing I've ever heard, and I'd be pretty offended if I didn't know it comes from ignorance. I actually said: well, society has rules, right? About what it means to treat people fairly, and with respect for their needs. I try to do right by that, and I understand that it's not always the same, everywhere in the world, or in history, but, oddly enough, there are some common themes. Y'know: don't be an A-hole. In the Confucian Analects, there's a nice version of the Golden Rule, but negatively stated – don't to anything to people you wouldn't want to happen to you. (By placing the burden of choice on refraining from action, it nicely avoids the masochist problem, namely, if it's DO unto others, then if you like to be whipped kinkily, then you should kinkily whip people.)
My roommate just suffered horribly all through the school year. We didn't stay in touch, but she is one of those people I wonder what happened to, even a few years later. While I was dithering about online recently, I was thinking of her, and wondered what it would be like if I were Christian and questioning my beliefs. In the course of research, I stumbled onto this site. There are a lot of people, I see now, just tortured by ideas that don't have to be a prison. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that I've lived happily without religion, and a lot happier than many people with religion.
Christianity really holds little weight with people who aren't brought up in that framework. The least effective arguments, from my point of view, seem to be exactly those that fundamentalists put all their stock in: those based on the Bible itself. I've read all sorts of holy books, and there's nothing to convince me that the Bible is any different than the others. If anything – and I've found this to be a good counter to the Bible quoting types – the Bible (Especially the King James version), with it's long history of editing, censorship, political game playing, and really bad translations, is one of the least clear and well-attested religious documents anywhere.
A great contrast, and a nice one to bring up in argument if you're willing to play dirty, is the Koran. That's why the Koran is always, always in the Classical Arabic it started in: explicitly to keep the message clear. If you can find a copy of the Koran in translation, there's usually a lengthy apology in the preface for even translating it, because even the best translation changes or loses the content of the original language. Very interesting. Since Christian fundamentalists seem to have the greatest objection to fundamentalist Islam (a little too much like themselves?), they tend to flip their wig if you ever bring that point up. My issue is with fundies, universally, of any religion or belief system. Anybody willing to kill or condemn to eternal torture (this goes for some stripes of Buddhist or Hindu too) people who don't think like themselves regardless of their choices, isn't someone I'm willing to play nice with. People are people, and you have all sorts in this world. An example, while we're on the subject of Islam: Saladin was acknowledged, even by his enemies, as an all-around great guy, but his contemporaries (and sort-of arch nemeses), the Hashashin, were reviled almost universally.
I guess the point is that you aren't alone. Pretty much my whole life I've been periodically treated to unthinking, rude, and outright offensive behaviour by Christians. I do fight back ruthlessly with a vicious verbal take-down if I feel it crosses the line, and I think it's important to support people who need it. I didn't need a book to tell me that.
P.S. I do celebrate “Christmas” - it started as a non-denominational mid-Winter holiday, anyhow, so have a happy Sol Invictus (December 25)!