WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN LEAVING FUNDAMENTALISM
This page is organized as follows:
- Some things to anticipate when leaving
- Accept where you are now
- More things that may be encountered as you leave
- Additional examples of emotional controls
- Do not underestimate the difficulty of leaving
- There is life after fundamentalism
- Checklist: Your gifts as you outgrow fundamentalism
Leaving fundamentalism might be a slow process or it might be traumatic, or it might be both. What might one face when leaving this sort of religious belief system? Forewarned is, as they say, forearmed.
We’re not talking about leaving a church today, automatically fitting into the outside world, and reading the papers henceforth on Sunday mornings. This is not light stuff. We’re talking about a person moving on to face the unknown who had been deeply committed and who had found his identity in his religion. In many cases, the individual was born in the church and so has no identity other than through the religion. The individual often is immature and unbalanced, lacking common sense and inexperienced in how the world works.
You may well be someone, as I was, who basically was just about brain-dead. Your inner spirit is recoiling from the fundamentalist system of belief but you don’t have the mental ability or life experience to either understand what this belief system did to you or to construct a mentally and emotionally healthy new life.
The tentacles of fundamentalism likely reach deep within you. When folk have left the church, some have lost their hair, had mental crises, had the feeling of an inner overloaded switchboard, were eaten up with fear and guilt, ran wild with drugs and promiscuity, all sorts of things. If you are forewarned, you will have less chance of reacting, of craziness. Rather, you have a better shot at being in control, that is, to understand what you are feeling and that it is to be expected, that it is a normal reaction and can be outgrown.
So take your time. Savor the time to start thinking, reflecting, and beginning to move the rusty gears of your brain and emotions. We’ll be talking more about this throughout the rest of the web site. When I left, I was totally isolated for twenty years. I had to work these things out for myself, which was a slow process. You can make much faster progress with the resources available today.
SOME THINGS TO ANTICIPATE WHEN LEAVING FUNDAMENTALISM
Expect that you will have times of psychic overload in your journey out of fundamentalism and maybe from some of the insights shared here. I had years when at times it seemed there was an overloaded switchboard inside me. When the overloaded switchboard was set off, I tried to maintain calm and just go on with my daily activities. Eventually, as I better understood what happened to me and as my life experience increased, those overload times got less and less.
I remember seeing cat pictures drawn by a schizophrenic. The sicker the individual got, the crazier the cat pictures. During those years, I also had a “crazy cat” feeling inside me.
Coming out of fundamentalism is, for many, similar to suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not knowing what you want is common with PTSD. Do not underestimate what you have been through in fundamentalism and may be going through in coming out of it. Get counseling if you feel you need it. Many people just change on their own.
The emotions, fears, and guilt can be overwhelming at times. I remember a few experiences where I felt out of space and time, such as at a service at a United Methodist church, singing a congregational hymn, when all of sudden, it was as if huge waves were breaking over me. I had the out-of-time sensation that each line of the hymn needed a thousand years to appreciate.
On my wall, I have a photograph of an artist’s palette with lots of red pigments and a jar of brushes. In front of them is a glass of wine. That photograph with its redness reminds me how painful some of life’s experiences can be, but how, if we continue forward with creativity, we can turn those painful experiences into fine wine (spoken metaphorically).
Sometimes journaling can be helpful in creatively turning painful experiences into fine wine. My experience was the reverse, however. I needed to stop thinking about myself and religious stuff and just live life. I needed to find out what life was all about, without the interference of religion. You may be in that place, too.
I’m going to share what I did when I first left the evangelical church. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, looking back, I can see that the steps I took were really important for laying a foundation for growth and for reducing the guilt of leaving the church and/or a deity. These tips may help you, too.
There may be a lot in this web site that you are not ready for yet. Don’t worry about that stuff. Maybe in a month or a year, you’ll better understand more dimensions of what you went through. If you cannot handle some of the things I say without spacing out on information overload, take it easy. I’ll be giving you tools throughout the web site to make the path easier. Come back to the harder parts at a later time. Maybe you need to do other things before thinking more about this religion business. I’ll be here when you are ready.
RECOGNIZE AND ACCEPT WHERE YOU ARE NOW
It’s easy for a recovering fundamentalist to feel threatened. A few years after I left the church, I tried joining a small discussion group in a Quaker Meeting. The folk in that group were warm and friendly, and the purpose of the group was to get to know each other better. The first meeting nevertheless was overwhelming for me. I wasn’t up for such friendliness and warmth. I couldn’t handle that level of sharing and didn’t return to the group after the first meeting.
A recovering fundamentalist can be threatened by a hint that the writer doesn’t believe in a deity. That’s simply too big a jump to be faced with right off. If you are feeling jittery, calm yourself. Remind yourself that this web site is neither pro- nor anti-religious belief. We are dealing with psychology here. You can understand the psychology without having to make a decision about whether you still believe in God or whether you might eventually give up that belief or get stronger in it from a more adult perspective. You are jumping the gun if you get yourself tied in knots over that question. Not all religious people are fundamentalists. Some are quite open-minded and progressive.
I remember conversing with a psychologist at a cult recovery convention and saying that in my opinion, evangelicals had the same mindset that people in cults had. This statement was too much for the recovering fundamentalist listening to the conversation, and she walled off further threatening thoughts, retreating back to fundamentalism and away from me.
Remember that truth cannot be killed by investigation. You can come either from a stance of fear or from one of trust. If you come from fear, you will be threatened by a lot in this web site. If you come from trust, you will learn and grow and have a better chance at regaining your selfhood, whether with or without continuing a belief in a deity. A trusting person knows that truth cannot be killed by investigation.
You don’t have to make any decisions now. No one is threatening you to do so. Consider your journey through this web site simply “Fundamentalism 101,” a classroom. Remember that “a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” (Lao Tzu). You can’t run 1000 miles, and you don’t need to, but you can take a baby step and then another and another. You are not alone, friend.
THINGS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER AS YOU LEAVE:
- Expect the impulse to look for a new savior.…but don’t give in to that impulse! Your friend, your therapist, thoughts of a future lover, bloggers, this web site, a new relationship – none of us can pour into you “the answers” for your life. The quest for a new savior would be an example of “layering,” that is, of keeping the same dependent mindset, only transferring the quest for salvation from a religious figure to someone else. If you took this easy route, you would remain on an adolescent level. To take responsibility for yourself and to grow up are more challenging… and more rewarding.
- You may feel that you need a nervous breakdown.|You may feel that you need to have a nervous breakdown but are too strong to have one. I felt that way many times. You may feel that you are holding on to your sanity by a thin thread. This is not uncommon. You are essentially leaving one identity behind and stepping off into the unknown. The unknown is scary.The artist, Dave Muller, has a painting where a plank extends out into space. At the end of the plank, there is a light-filled door. Beyond that, there is the starry night. In a sense, we walk that plank when we leave the religion. We walk through the door, not knowing what we will find on the other side. What is the starry night to us? Do we reconnect with nature, with our inner human spirit? Do we pass into a different dimension from what we knew in fundamentalism?|Risk is involved on this journey. We can take our baby steps, one after the other. We can pass through the door and into the adventure. We can trust that we’ll make it through. Even better, though, we can learn a lot more about life after fundamentalism and know that, though we will have a lot of catch-uping ahead of us, we will be ok. We are going to make it.I will share with you, though, that in some cases a religious decision (going in or coming out) can set off predispositions to mental illness. For some people, these jarring, life-changing decisions can have huge impacts. So get help if you feel you are in trouble.I remember “Tom,” a young man who told me that he got “saved” with the Navigators (evangelical proselytizing organization) on a Tuesday, and by that Saturday he was in a mental hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia.
When I met him some months later, he was consumed with fear of hell, pacing back and forth, back and forth. I connected him up with a pioneering medical researcher in brain chemistry (who has since stopped treating patients and returned to pure research), and Tom was treated with megavitamin therapy, based on the work of Carl Pfeiffer with brain chemical imbalances and brain allergies.
After that, for the first time Tom and I had a real conversation. He was able to sit down and interact. Still, the doctor had told me that Tom needed a lot of support to help him through, but his father was dismissive, telling him to grow up and get a job. I lost track of Tom but suspect that he ended up medicated. The stakes can be high for the human psyche.
I remember Tom’s physician telling me that schizophrenia can be set off by religious experiences, drug use, and a third category of “unknown etiology.” With Tom, was it really “schizophrenia” or did he mostly have chemical imbalances in his brain, with symptoms set off by the religious conversion experience?
- Expect that within you are hidden controls from brainwashing and mind control.Understand that there are hidden controls deep inside you that are still operational after you walk out the door of fundamentalism. You need time and information to understand and root out these controls. The controls have to do with brainwashing and mind control. This is heavy-duty stuff, but you can come through it. Be patient. Don’t expect too much too soon.I already gave some examples on the power of suggestion. I frequently pass a sign that warns, “You WILL MEET GOD!” I think to myself such thoughts as, “You will meet Oz.” “God doesn’t like bullies, which is what your fear-based religion represents.”I think that the controls over Pentecostals must be particularly hard, what with “examples” of healings and other “miracles” to rattle people. Part of this power was broken for me when a Hindu man matter-of-factly mentioned that his grandfather had had the gift of healing and people would come to him from all over. Bingo, maybe this is a universal phenomenon – where it is legitimate, that is, because we probably all know some of the tricks that can be played to convince naïve people – such as planting a “healed” person in the audience or the hypnotic response of falling backward and being “slain in the spirit.”We humans are susceptible to easy, superstitious belief, but we need to marry our heads with our hearts and think these things through. I have no training in deprogramming but can refer you to books that address that subject in the Resources section.
Reading autobiographies of former fundamentalists can also be helpful, such as Skipp Porteus’s Jesus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: From Fundamentalist to Freedom Writer.
- Hidden controls can be emotional controls.You may be experiencing emotional controls in ways that you don’t understand. You may have to identify emotional clues and follow them to their root. For example, you live with a fundamentalist who tries to engulf you, but you need to keep your boundary firm. Your former programming would cause you to feel guilty in such a situation. So you track the control down and discover some thoughts that free you from the false guilt. These thoughts may include the notion that you do not owe that person your life, that you are on your own journey and have a right to it, that you need to maintain your focus, that it is ok to maintain your focus, and that you cannot carry that person’s loneliness. That other person has made some unfortunate decisions for his or her life, but they have to want something better for themselves before you might have something in common – and there’s no evidence they do. They are the crab, trying to pull you back down into the fundamentalist barrel. But you are free. Move on. Move away if you can.In another example of hidden emotional controls, there are some stealthy evangelicals who caution their followers: “Infiltrate, then evangelize.” That is, they would draw unsuspecting and naïve people in with non-threatening interests (enjoyment of music, fellowship in small like-minded interest groups, testimonials from grateful people, offers of purposeful living, youth activities, autistic support groups, “movie night,” adult singles groups, bereavement groups, etc.). The visitor gets hooked and feels part of the happy community. Perhaps loneliness is assuaged. The visitor has things to do. It is only down the road that the visitor now realizes that certain opinions he holds are unacceptable and little by little, his “self” gets chipped away and replaced with Bible teachings and then with the final surrender of his “sinful self”.In my youth, evangelical churches had altar calls, where you went up front and confessed your sins and “got right with God.” The mega-churches offer more socially acceptable activities, but the bottom-line is the same. To repeat, “Our soul purpose: Catch ‘em. Clean ‘em. Clone ‘em.”
Listen to this quotation about emotional controls from music, quoted from Chinua Achebe’s book, Things Fall Apart, about missionaries penetrating to a new tribe in Nigeria:
“Then the missionaries burst into song. It was one of those gay and rollicking tunes of evangelism which had the power of plucking at silent and dusty chords in the heart of an Ibo man. The interpreter explained each verse to the audience, some of whom now stood enthralled,” p. 146
MORE EXAMPLES OF EMOTIONAL CONTROLS
My suggestion is to be aware of this list but add to it from your own experience. I don’t even know if I’ve discovered all the emotional controls in my own life. I just keep on growing and trust that issues will be recognized and resolved in their own time, as I have the courage to face them honestly.
- Stories were my first hook. I came from the Catholic church, where the priest was still giving the mass in Latin, into a Sunday School class for 5-year-olds where the teacher was lively, warm, and attractive and used a colorful flannel board to tell stories. I was enthralled by all the color and the stories. Religion is often presented with stories. When we leave our religion, we may leave these stories behind. Then, we need to make our own new stories to help us flesh out our new identities. Perhaps the new story is one from slavery to freedom. Or, from adolescence to adulthood. Or, from Mars to Earth. Or, from prison to freedom. Or from being a kitten to a cat. You will probably relate to autobiographies of people who came to their freedom and their adulthood – like coming of age stories and stories from slavery to freedom. I’m currently reading insightful essays and poetry written by a Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Prize but who currently sits in prison in China – and how he tried to find his own humanity under a repressive political system. That book is No Enemies, No Hatred, by Liu Xiaobo. I can relate to much of his journey. You may, too, though we will never have the deepening of his particular harsh experiences.
- Fear is an obvious emotional control. “I will agree to what the religion teaches if it saves me from purgatory/hell.” “What if they are right after all?” I wish I could say that there is a magic pill you could take to wake up one morning and be able to dismiss all that shadowy fear and go on with your life. There are things you can do to help the process, such as reading books on the Higher Criticism of the Bible (see Resource List) and autobiographies of those who left a religion, etc.When I face death as an old person, how will I be? None of us really knows until that time, do we? I like what Byron Katie said, “Dying is like going to sleep, and when we wake up, we will know what to do.” That’s sweet, isn’t it? And also magical thinking. Who knows if we’ll just never wake up again, which is more what I think. Let me live life while I’m here, enjoy this moment in time, give and receive love, and then when it’s time to leave, have a smile on my face.What did Walt Whitman say inLeaves of Grass? “When you walk on the grass, you walk on my heart,” or something like that. I find that thought strangely lovely. I sit here today at the side of a stream and think of the Native Americans who walked along this stream hundreds of years ago. Are they buried nearby? Can their essence be found in the grass and the wind and the trees? Can I feel their spirits? I’m comforted, too, that though we humans may destroy ourselves, we cannot destroy the earth and that will go on and heal itself.I wonder if some things are so imprinted on our brains that they will always be there, such as the “what if they’re right after all” type of control. Does a woman who was raped ever forget, ever live carefree as if it never happened? Of course not. Why should we expect 100% healing with fundamentalism, or berate ourselves if sometimes there are nagging fears? We can be honest about our feelings and then transmute them into gold… living a life of love and giving. It takes courage to live this life, my friend. No escaping that. Meanwhile, we can learn, be strengthened from interaction with other people, resonate with what we read from other former fundies, remind ourselves that there is life after fundamentalism, and so on. There will be exercises to help in the growing-a-self section.
Ultimately, what I said to myself is, “I’m either going to live a life from trust and love, or from fear. It’s my choice.” So I chose to trust myself, to trust that I am drawn toward the good and that, when darkness appears in me, I try to face it squarely and learn its lessons. I trust in good will, whatever that means and wherever it exists.” And I let it rest there. Instead of worrying over my own salvation, I turn my attention to growing, to understanding, to living and loving, to making a contribution, and to extending a hand to others.
I recognize that the controls penetrated deeply but that growth is natural. These controls will atrophy or be outgrown in their own time as I maintain forward motion. I recognize the utility of the “4 questions” in helping me to break up any roadblocks the implanted controls represent. The controls are examples of wrong thinking, and wrong thinking can be corrected by a process known as “Inquiry” – which we’ll return to later on.
Part of the logical problem with this type of fear is that you can’t prove a negative. You can’t prove, for example, that hell doesn’t exist or that god doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, the Christian is secure in his belief that both exist. His security stands in sharp contrast to your empty hands. Just remember that believing something doesn’t make it so. If that individual believed that the Land of Oz existed, you’d be able to brush that off, wouldn’t you?
I remember another thought being helpful to me way back when I first left the church: “God knows my heart, and since I have to go the way I am going, I have to trust the good Lord to intervene when appropriate in my life.” I wouldn’t have that deistically-oriented thought now, but it was useful back then. It helped relieve me of carrying the burden of God. It was God’s business what God would communicate to me, not mine, and I needed to stay out of God’s business. My business was to carry on with what I believed I needed to be doing for the immediate future.
Not only fear for one’s self but fear for others’ salvation is an emotional control. Even today, when I encourage another in his or her growth, sometimes I miss the former certainty of tying in god-talk with the conversation. I’d feel more secure if that individual was in the center of God’s will… and then I remind myself that Christmas will not come again. This earth is all there is for me. I can grieve that there isn’t more than this, or I can rejoice that the world is everything to me, and it is full of wonder. I am busy being happy, encouraging the growth and happiness of others, loving life, and climbing the mountain to my fullest human potential.
- Be prepared for grieving.What exactly am I regretting when these musings come? That I’m not the child of a deity? This, my friend, is a major sea change shift in attitudes. We are so used to thinking in terms of eternity, because that’s the air we breathed in our religion. Just because we believed in the Wizard of Oz doesn’t make the afterlife a certainty. “I am an agnostic…and then there is the mystery.” I’m open to the mystery, but I don’t know its parameters. All I can know is the life I’m living and the world I’m in. My gratitude for life carries me through.Having and then losing a love relationship with your invisible friend can be traumatic, worthy of grieving, even if there is an underlying emotional control. Whether your intellect believes any longer or not, your heart can still feel the empty chair.There may be serious grief at the loss of a love relationship with the “lover of your soul,” even for those who no longer believe. Sometimes we have to push through with “sheer dogged endurance” (somewhere in the Phillips New Testament) until better days arrive. Spring will come again.
Poet Virginia Hamilton Adair lost the lover of her soul, too, when her beloved husband went up to their bedroom and shot himself, totally unexpectedly. Here’s her poem for the time of just hanging on. She wrote poetry as a survival mechanism during dark days. The poem “Dark Lines” is from her book, Ants on the Melon. The poem is almost prayer-like, to the spirit of life:
My line hold fast and do not break
with drawing life from the cold sea.
I do this for my hunger’s sake.
And when I climb the cliff to wake
from hounds of the night pursuing me,
my line hold fast and do not break.
Forget me, Love, and never shake
With grief at infidelity;
I do this for my hunger’s sake.
In this and many a poem I make
To sound my dark identity,
My line hold fast and do not break.
Strange food for thought – why man would take
his rest beneath a hanging-tree!
– I do this for my hunger’s sake.
Forgive me, Life, the famished ache
To swing across eternity –
My line hold fast and do not break –
I do this for my hunger’s sake.
To me, even the grieving of the loss of our faith, a grieving so deep that it “swings across eternity,” can be transmuted into Life, into a fishing line stretching between one’s sad condition of great loss and the nourishment of poetry and beauty.
Virginia Adair cannot bring her husband back, any more than we can bring back the innocence and childlike trust we had in our respective faiths. Nevertheless, that yearning can be transmuted into Life, into poetry, and our line holds fast and does not break. It’s time for us to come of age, to move out of the religious certainty of our youth into the questions, responsibilities, and uncertainties of adulthood. “My line hold fast and do not break.” Is she entreating her line to hold fast? Hoping that her line will hold fast? Is that part of the mystery? I think so. It takes courage to live life, to face the uncertainty of death, to face the loss of one’s loved one.
For us, it takes courage to leave the warm religious womb. Yet, if we don’t leave, we won’t grow up — and we have too much to do in life to remain on an undeveloped level. Our job right now may be to grow in understanding so that we can learn new habits of thought and response.
I don’t know what the right path is for you. I don’t have an agenda for your life, though at one time I did. I let go of control, let you go, and now can trust that you will live your life the way that is right for you. That’s a big step for us former fundies.
- Guilt and shame are other obvious emotional controls.None of us is perfect. None of us attains as much as we would like to attain. We fall short. That is part of being human. So what? You dust yourself off, get up, and try again.Or do you? Do you instead blame yourself for falling short of the mark? Do you cross paths with someone who labels that “falling short” as “sin,” and convinces you that you need forgiveness from a deity?Do you have a secret of which you are ashamed? We all do, whether we may have shared the secret with a friend or not. None of us would like everything we do or did 24/7 projected onto a TV screen. So what, you learn your lesson, you move on, you keep growing. Maybe down the road you’ll be a jerk again, just like the rest of us. Deal with it, and don’t let anyone tie you in knots over it.There was a book popular in the 60s, I think… Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf: A Novel. Harry Haller, the main character, was so depressed that he wanted to take his life. However, somehow an “order” from the eternals, or whoever, came down to him that he couldn’t take his life until he learned to laugh. We former fundies often have some work to do to build a sense of humor, an adult sense of humor, not the adolescent sense of humor in the churches. We have some work to do to laugh at the absurdities of life, even while we’re rolling up our sleeves and trying to help.
- Another emotional control is the superstitious listening for “God’s will.”You leave the church and go on with your life. One day, there is a strange coincidence and your immediate thought is, “Could God be trying to tell me something?” You are right back in that emotional control scenario. Noooo. A strange coincidence is just a strange coincidence. Observe it, and use your brain along with your emotions to decide your direction. A friend told me about an old movie where a woman often went to her closet to pray. At the end, you learn that the “god” is higher up in the closet, and it is a big black spider. Superstitious surrender to “god’s will” can get you eaten by a big black spider. It did me, over and over.I believe that a sense of exceptionalism can be an emotional control. Do you know the hymn, the “Ninety and Nine”? There were 99 sheep, with one gone astray. The shepherd left the 99 to find the one lost sheep.The message of course was that God loves the individual enough to search out the lost sheep. There are no ninety and nine. There is no one lost sheep. You are quite ordinary, along with the rest of us. The person to whom we are talking is the most important person to us at that moment. That is living in the present. The present is more than satisfying.
- I believe that another emotional control is the belief that the religion is Christmas, that is, that it stands for all the hopes and dreams of a trusting child.But reality tells us that religion is not Christmas. It does not deliver what it promises. This whole web site addresses that issue. The journey of life is not to become a child again, but rather to grow and mature and eventually gain the wisdom of a tribal elder. Would one of the Native American chiefs want to go back to being a child again? He would think such a question demented. It’s the same with us. If we want to grow to our full human potential, that potential is in the form of an adult, not of a child. Wishful thinking will fail us sooner or later. If something sounds too good to be true….
- Inner controls can be boundary issue controls.For example, you are with a fundamentalist. The fundamentalist says nothing, but you know that he is praying for your soul. You feel intimidated. Why are you feeling intimidated? – because you are into his business instead of paying attention to your own business. It’s his business what he does with his mental energies. What you do with yours is your business. Take back your power. Confirm your personal boundaries and your focus, and continue on your journey.
- Inner controls can be found in pressure from fundamentalist family and friends.You may get a lot of pressure from fundamentalist friends and family. We used to say in the (defunct) Fundamentalist Anonymous organization that when a son or daughter leaves a cult, they are welcomed back into the family. When you leave fundamentalism, you are essentially shunned by the family and pressured to return to the fold.I referred to the “crab in the barrel” syndrome already, which was told me by an Afro American. One crab tries to crawl out of the barrel, but the other crabs try to grab onto him and pull him back. At this web site and in this network of former fundies, we extend a hand to the crabs trying to climb out of the barrel. “You can make it, little crab. Just hold on tight.”
- Expect to second-guess yourself.Self-doubt can be an inner control.You’ll probably encounter second-guessing yourself. “Not all your fundamentalist experience was bad…and maybe they are right after all. Should you go forward? Should you go back to your church? Should you try another church?” Try to avoid this type of thinking, because it leads nowhere. You’ve already been over that ground a hundred times. Maintain forward motion. As you grow and learn more, things will become clearer in their own time. You can’t rush this process. The onion has to be peeled back.There are multiple layers that have to be recognized and addressed on the road to freedom. It will take time. Don’t expect too much too soon. Do look forward to the adventure.
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE DIFFICULTY OF LEAVING
As you read through this web site, you will better understand the larger picture of what this “religion” does to a person in practical terms. Know that you’ve had to be bloody strong to stand against it and move forward.
This is tough stuff, both on a personal level and in dealing with fundamentalist family members. You may not feel “bloody strong,” nor do I at times. I stumble, just like everyone else. I consider myself fortunate indeed to have made it out.
Suppose I had married during my stint at the evangelical college and had a few kids and that we were all involved in the church. Would I have left the religion? I don’t know. Suppose my parents had brought me early on to a mega-church (if they had existed back then)? Would I have gotten so wrapped up in the whoop-de-do that I would have been distracted from harder questions? Would my mind have been so chock full of stuff to do that I would have missed the fact that something huge was missing?
Suppose my memory had been better and I had ended up a medical missionary. Would the tie-in with other people’s suffering, and their gratitude, have been sufficient to hold me in the religion? Suppose I had never crossed paths with the man who precipitated my break with the church? Would I have just tried another church, maybe signed up for a mission trip, repented at yet another revival meeting? The possibilities are endless.
I can look back and say, “Well, yes, but there were all those other reasons for leaving that would still have existed.” That’s true enough – but my understanding of the whole scene was such a mishmash that I nevertheless might not have been able to make my way out of fundamentalism. Could it be true that the day that that handsome scalawag came down the hall and though a stranger, asked me to marry him and I replied, “Not this weekend, maybe next” … could it be true that that stupid little flirtation was the pivot upon which perhaps one of the biggest decisions of my life hinged, to burn my bridges to fundamentalism? Life is strange…
For me, as for you, everything in my past brought me to where I am today. I am grateful for all of it. Perhaps where you are is painful. Remind yourself that life is change. Learn your lessons for now. As the evangelical dean at my college used to say, “Obey the light you have, and more light will come.” That statement of course is couched in religious terminology… but the concept is the same on a secular level. Take the next steps on your journey, and you will be at a different place on the road. The scenery will be different. The opportunities and lessons will be different. Maintain forward motion. There will be a lot more information along these lines in the 3rd tab section on growing a self.
THERE IS LIFE AFTER FUNDAMENTALISM
Here is a tip that was helpful to me: I knew within myself that I would never surrender my Self to another group after leaving fundamentalism. I saw myself as walking down my own road, taking from the left and from the right what was useful to me. Set up that vision in your mind. You are on your own journey, walking your own road. You will take from the left and take from the right what is useful to you, but you will not surrender your identity to another “ism.” You will have some missteps, but the path is your own, and you are – and will learn more how to be – your own person.
Ultimately, many former “fundies” become “vaccinated” against the lure of fundamentalism and against fundamentalists themselves. We can see through the religion and through the fundamentalists, and they are not attractive to us. We understand the motivations behind the come-ons. Fundamentalism will have lost its power over us.
CHECKLIST: YOUR GIFTS AS YOU OUTGROW FUNDAMENTALISM
As you move out of the transition “tunnel” from fundamentalism to freedom, you will be in a better position. You will have new understanding and maturity. Here are some “gifts” that are yours after working out your fundamentalist experience:
- You know who you are.
- You will have opened the door to growing up.
- You know what you want.
- You are stronger for overcoming the threat to your self.
- You have adopted your own value system.
- You know how to live a purposeful life on your own terms.
- You understand and enjoy connection with other people.
- You have looked death in the face and not flinched. You understand it as a part of life.
- You have your freedom to be and to become.
- You don’t have to view life through a fundamentalist grid any longer.
- You are free to explore.
- You are free to love.
- You are free to be open.
- You are free to be surprised.
- You no longer have to self-censor about what you read, view, or think.
- You are free to be self-protective and set healthy boundaries.
- You are free to build your defenses and no longer be defenseless.
- You are free to think well of yourself as a human being, not perfect but choosing the good as you come to understand it.
- You are free to have self-esteem.
- You own your own emotions.
- You build a sense of self-possession.
- You are free to experience intimacy as a way of life.
- You are free to choose whom you allow into your life, and how close, and whom you do not wish to associate with.
- You can refer a wounded person to a counselor, but you do not have to take on that person’s burdens.
- You have the present that belongs to you.
- You have a future to build toward.
- You have a contribution to make, to leave the world a little better.
- You free to love life, to love this world.
- You can experience a sunset, a bird, a beautiful view, in and of itself. The colors are lusher, the bird songs friendlier. You are born again again.
“Yours is the world and everything in it, and, what’s more, you’ll be a man, my son,” as Rudyard Kipling said in his poem, “If.”
What a difference this perspective makes!
Now click on the next section, for more tips to help smooth the way when leaving fundamentalism.