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Why I am Still a Christian

A couple of similar comments were left recently that I wanted to address in a post:
“Without trying to be antagonistic, I am curious why so many have continued in the christian religion after their experiences with it. I was raised as a strong Protestant, and had spent years studying the Bible and Christian theology, but subsequent to my experiences with a man who controlled his daughter/family to the point of ruining a relationship, I realized that trying to pick and choose which parts of Christianity gave birth to it was impossible. So, I am interested why so many here are moving forward with that intent.” (From Commandments of Men | New Blog)

and

“Not to join in the mutual misery society, but having likewise been through a failed relationship with a girl because of her father and her refusal to actually commit…similar to many of the details that “Lewis” has shared…I have one question: Why do any of you continue to be christian? Once I learned what the end result was, I washed my hands of it all; and I’m curious why so many of you who have been through similar situations continue in the very ideology that gave birth to the abuse.” (From When You Love a Daughter of Patriarchy.)

I am so sorry for the pain that you’ve been through. I believe that God weeps with you at the injustice and sorrow that you’ve witnessed and experienced; even though I don’t know the precise details within your situations He did speak strongly about those who cause His children to stumble. 
Speaking for myself, separating God from man (including man’s actions, beliefs, lifestyles, etc.) and separating God from the man-made religion of Christianity was a vital part of healing and continuing in the Faith. Ultimately it required taking certain people and ideas off of a pedestal and allowing God to shatter all the false ideas I held onto, including lies about myself and a misunderstanding of His nature, and replace them with truth.
I can follow a God who hates authoritarianism, who prizes mercy over judgment, who values person over doctrine. For me, it’s a matter of realizing that humans (including myself) are fallen creatures and that I can look to no one except God for truth and righteousness. This also helps me have grace and mercy, forgiveness, honor and love for those who continue these practices, knowing that as a human, I too make mistakes, cause pain, and am no better, more enlightened, or more worthy than anyone else. I can’t blame God for the actions of man, even when those things might be done in His name. I am actually thankful, for in my own life it forced me to seek Him myself and work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.  The Lord called me, healed me, and set my feet upon the narrow path…it is my joy to serve Him however I can.
I’d love to hear from others, both Christian and those who have left the faith due to abuses of patriarchalism, authoritarianism, and fundamentalism. If you are a Christian, why, and how have you remained so or become so? And if you’ve left the faith, why, and what would it take to come back?

In other words, why have you kept the faith despite spiritual abuse?


49 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing! I am not into organized religon,but closer to God than I ever have been. I still consider myself Catholic/Christian.

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  2. Thanks for the great post and the reminder that patriarchalist abuses have resulted from disregarding the Bible — which makes me wonder why ignoring all of it would help? 🙂

    Perhaps I would only qualify your statement about "valuing person over doctrine." If "doctrine" is taken to mean lifeless, pointless teachings about fine points of philosophy or something, I could understand that. Yet Christian doctrine should include the truth that persons are valuable, that God is merciful and does not tolerate human authoritarianism. Through true, Biblical teaching about God's nature and actions (doctrine), we know He is love.

    (If it helps at all, I also pick on a favorite Nicole Nordeman song for along implying that upholding doctrine is inevitably unloving.)

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  3. im not entirely sure y i remain but i have been thru a similar process of separating god from religion and people. found myself with faith in a very different god on the other side.

    good post.

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  4. Thank you all for the feedback! 🙂

    E.Stephen Burnett, good thoughts…the doctrines of man is a good qualification, although unfortunately it takes some years-to-never understanding that the doctrines of man are, in fact, not God's doctrines. 🙁

    theholywild…so thankful this is true.

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  5. Funny that you should post on this question today–I've been trying to write something for my own blog and no matter what topic I start writing about, by the end of it I find myself responding to this question instead!

    I grew up in the rather prototypical patriarchal household in the 70s–before Gothard, et al, got up a full head of steam but their ideas were starting to float around the Evangelical churches I grew up in and the families we associated with–and left Christianity in my heart in the mid 80s and physically left the building in the early 90s.

    But I've always been a mystic, a Seeker of Truth wherever it may be found, and I found that, once I abandoned the dogma of You Must Believe Doctrines, I could commune with the Divine in the way I had always sensed possible while in the church but the doctrine got in the way.

    After 20 years of free-lance mysticism and dabbling in other organized religions and social groups (who all turned out to be as fundamentalistic in practice as the Christians I had left, or more so as fundamentalism as a mindset increased as a Zeitgeist toward the end of the 20th century), I found myself wanting to root out my own fundamentalist fears and angers and integrate the best of my heritage as an American Protestant woman into the person I want to be in this second half of my life.

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  6. I won't leave a lot of replies today, worked out a lot yesterday [I do that sometimes]…all I want to say is, for me, because I questioned faith from a critical point, from the most hostile [at times] to the revolutionary, and still Do question,

    the Bible, God, Heaven [the laws of, hierarchy, real reason we were created, so forth, including questioning everything from ancient beliefs, that are re-emerging today with full force, Sumerians, Annakim, Egyptians, Mayan, etc]

    there is ONE thing, that stands apart, from every single 'god' and 'ideology' out there that is the core of the compass I have found,

    and that is, Jesus, was The One, Lord of All, creator of All, both good and evil [that is Biblical] came down, as human, and gave His body, laid His self down, was horribly tortured, so that I, You, wouldn't have to die spiritually eternally. Of all the beliefs, of all the gods, of all the goddesses, of all the aliens, only ONE, ONE,

    gave Himself, for Us, in a more intimate loving way than even a lover would…He gave and Took our sins, our darkness, took the pain, horror, the ravaging dogs, the bulls of Bashan, Psalms 22, the shame, the being 'forsaken', all of it, the fear, so that HE could give us HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, HIS SALVATION, THROUGH HIS POWER, HIM,

    that is THE POWER, OF THE GOSPEL, it is not about authority, it is not about law, it is not about facade, it is not about power, it is not about marriage, gender roles, hierarchy, economics,

    but Love. Someone told me, and the religious often do, sin separates us from God, true, that is true, but what is forgotten, is that sin did not keep God away from US, oh no, Jesus came down and sat, ate, drank with sinners, so it wasn't God who avoided us,

    it was us, who avoided Him, that is what sin does, it takes US from Him, from His Love, it warps and poisons OUR minds, OUR souls, OUR spirits, not His…His Love, His Holiness, is not shaken by evil, it is more Powerful that evil, it is more Powerful than

    DEATH.

    Even DEATH, COULD NOT HOLD JESUS DOWN…IT CANNOT HOLD LOVE, PURE LOVE, DOWN.

    That is the Power of the Holy Spirit, NOT human will, not human goodness, frail and shallow as it may be and is…

    God, the ultimate Power, the ultimate Love, is not shaken by us, He saved us, IF we will simply, let Him, trust Him, rely on Him…His only begotton son, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Our salvation.

    Humans through beginning of time have done all to climb up the ladder back to God, fearing due to sin, the consciousness of, doing all to Prove, to Justify their 'earned' right to Heaven, so they think,

    but we all have sinned, we all have sinned against Love, to Love God with all our hearts, mind, strength, notice that is the one command, that does not say, as thyself. Only the love thy neighbor as thyself.

    Why is that? Because we could Never, love thyself the way God loves us.

    No way, He, our maker, our creator, He as in 'in our image', male and female, our image,

    loved us so much in spite of our sin, gave His self, His body, broken, beaten, naked, bruised, bleeding,

    to wash us, cleanse us, to bring us to Him, to reconcile US, to HIM, to make us New Creations, in His likeness.

    Of all the beliefs, HE, is the ONLY one, that gave His self to me, to you, to the world, to all, so that no one, has to be separated from Him and His total Love,

    justified freely, by HIS GRACE,

    no other ideology, no other explanation, nothing the world has to offer, can even compare, to Him, to His love, the King of All, gave His life blood, so that I might Live, in His love, forever.

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  7. cont

    And all I had to do, is believe and live through Him, through Love–I have questioned it all, without hesitation, without succumbing to the 'dogma' of doctrines, to rebel against them, I found,

    was actually my road to freedom, because HE showed me, in spite of my sins, which are many, who HE is, and He still is. To KNOW love, to Live Love, is so far from doctrines, religion, doing 'right' but with no real love, is a journey, sometimes painful yes, because it is So contrary to what we are and know, is a Life, the Life, that only one I think, knows through the Holy Spirit, faith works by Love. Anything other than that, is simply a mind ideal–one day that mind ideal will falter, mine did,

    when HE comes through, He and HE alone, without mental adhering, then you know, YOU KNOW, and you're never the same again. So for me, it's not that I still believe,

    because that ran out–now it's little steps, running to Him, and total reliance on Him, the Cross, Jesus and Jesus Crucified, the compass, that I rely on, to lead me to the end. That, I think, is what faith is, the hope, substance of things hoped for.

    BTW, for any who have questioned, from a secular point, from other ideologies, I have written on some of the journey, on my blog,

    maybe some of my dark questionings will help those, searching in truth and in doubt, I do not sugar coat, sometimes I can even be crass, but it was Truth, that I sought for, after Years of dabbling in lot of other beliefs. And I did ask the hard questions…and still do. God does answer, that I do know. [I came/questioned from a left ideology too, so just so you know]

    http://homesewersneedleworkersunion-hsnwu.blogspot.com/

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  8. God drew me to a relationship with Himself that was separate from the lifestyle choices my parents made for our family. Even when I still believed/practiced the patriarchal-type lifestyle, I had a solid relationship with God that was based on His grace, not just what my parents believed. (Sorry if I lapse into "christianese" lingo–I try not to do that but I'm writing quickly and defaulting to familiar vocab!).

    When I exited the legalistic lifestyle, that relationship remained. I could finally understand that my parents made destructive choices for us, not because of Christianity, but because of their own dysfunctions and warped thinking that had nothing to do with real Christianity.

    I did wrestle through some intellectual doubts, but always came back to a relationship with God that I knew was real. I know that kind of experiential confidence is not enough for some people, but it's ultimately what carried me through.

    Another huge factor in stabilizing my faith was the love of non-patriarchal Christians. When I saw the love and spiritual depth in some of the "worldly Christians" I'd once
    disdained, I realized that their faith could not possibly be manufactured. That encouraged me in my quest.

    -Grace

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  9. As far as abuses of patriarchalism, authoritarianism, and fundamentalism being billed as 'Christian,' these practices are all distinctly anti-relationship in nature. They are all about rules, they are the stuff of religion.

    I finally understood that Jesus didn't come to give us a new religion. It is Relationship rooted and grounded in Love that changes hearts.

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  10. I like what you said lionwoman, you know though my questioning was from a radical turn the rock over left view [far left], it didn't start Out that way, I grew up, with a family background in strict Catholicism/Shriner/masonry and Italian male-Patric centrism with also Irish, culture wise,

    then grew up in an extreme racist-nationalist based religious fundie town in the South, with over 100 churches, a lot of pharisees, with secret wife swapping parties, that kind of hypocrisy, KKK mentality, materialism, the whole right wing neo-conservative, neo-Nazi type of mentality that while my family who were from the East did not abide in that culture, the assimilation still occurred because it was only way to survive and keep from being lynched, literally. So in THAT WAY I can totally relate to what so many who have grown up with the QF and other fundie lifestyles are saying, and it was the LEARNED CONSTRUCTS and internalized gender hate, growing up with that,

    that actually laid the groundwork, both mentally and spiritually for me to be so accepting of other totalitarian cults or semi-cults, thinking that is, anything that was authoritarian in nature, including numerous denominations that are OBSESSED WITH SUBMISSION AND PATRIARCHY, I was ripe for, I had been trained and trained early.

    That's the thing about religion though, you don't have to be directly intimate or connected to it to be influenced negatively by it's destructive forces…especially when those negative influences are Political, Economical, Social and Institutional,

    and this, this is what I think is even far more dangerous for all people, especially women, and why yes, there is such a need to outwardly confront, challenge, rebuke blatant wrongs, because the Day we are Silent,

    is the Day that the authoritarians take dominion and we will wind up like so many other nations, in a state of tyranny, that is disguised under a mask of goodness. This is why, I do think dissent is so necessary, and the silencing of dissent,

    to me, spells out more danger than just what transpires in a few semi-cults or cult-like religions. Religion, rigid patriarchy and hierarchy, even if secluded, is yes, indeed, a threat,

    to freedom to have a soul that is not controlled or destroyed by forces that mean harm, so many think the dangers lie in liberalism,

    I can speak from experience, the groundwork, for tyranny, for absolutism, for the worst kind of medi-evil misogynist abuse, leading to feudalism with a gun,

    lay none other, than in RELIGION.

    I cannot emphasize this enough, and I really do believe, that the danger of this real threat, is too often, trivialized, in the safety of that it's not the same as faith, that is true, it isn't,

    but if faith is to have the freedom to grow, it requires space to breathe. Once that space is removed by despots, dominion movements that are mixed politically, be they right or not, they Always lead up to,

    totalitarianism.

    The connection of, is so glaring in my life, though not directly in the religious patriarchy, indirectly, male centric patriarchy, not only Nearly destroyed my faith, it did unrepairable damage, to both my life and my children's…

    and that, I will Never, forget. which is why, I will stand opposed to religion. It is toxic, it is poison, make No mistake about it…it paves the way, to absolutist fascism, NOT the other way, around.

    Jane

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  11. Grace, I totally agree with your last paragraph! When I saw "rebellious" young people walk through difficult times with shining faces and love for others, a lot of my prejudice fell away.

    Hillary, great post!

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  12. Once my Mother remarried (with an abusive biological father behind), we at first reguraly attended church. But after my parents were wounded in the church (from a mainstream denomination), they quit. Once we moved to Georgia, I started going on my own, alone. However based on my outlandish punk-rockish dress, I too became wounded in a public kinda way by leadership in the church. I had been attending ever time the doors opened. Hence, I too quit and became a prodigal for many years. Until I hit bottom and my life lay in shambles around me, did I come at a crossroads to reject God. I chose not to reject. It had terrified me how far I'd gone and I came back from the stye and was welcomed with open arms by the Father. To prove Himself even more real, He sent Jesus through others in a church I found after coming back 'home'. They accepted me warts and all. I began to thaw and realized how I'd built a wall not to keep me in but for keeping others out, even Him. It took a pit and many, many, skins of Jesus to fully embrace not only His forgiveness of sin, but my own forgiveness of my sin. Forgiving myself was the hardest. But coming back has been a deeper and more treasured relationship than ever before.

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  13. Many who have heard my story have said to me "it is amazing to me that you still believe in God at all, that your faith has continued, and you have not chosen to walk away from it all." There are many, many times I was so ready to just turn around and walk away from it all. If I'm honest, there are still days I feel so shattered and broken that I am so frustrated and am tempted to believe that this is not worth it. But it's not about the people who do this to me. It's about me and God. It's about a Jesus who L.O.V.E.S me SO much that He was tortured and killed for ME. He has never once done harm to me, He is the only one I trust and cling to in the storm.

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  14. I was recently chatting with a 'quivering' friend who is preparing to move out from her authoritarian family (in a situation almost uncannily similar to the story of "Annie"), and she expressed to me her weighty concern that when all is said and done, no matter how certain she is that she's doing the right thing in leaving, she may turn out to be wrong after all — and that God will hold her accountable for it … then her deeper fear that this entire struggle is born of selfishness and thus disregard of / rebellion against God … and that ultimately she will be damned for it as one who "wilfully goes on sinning". >_>

    Through a long conversation, God provided me with the words she needed to hear, showing her over and over again from Scripture God's faithfulness toward His chosen ones, that yes He 'wrote Israel a certificate of divorce' — but six verses later pleaded for her to return to Him … that even when we insist on turning our backs on Him, He will never turn His back on us … even when like the prodigal son we think we wish He were dead, He awaits with eager open arms our return …

    And with tears in my eyes I reminded her that the God of the universe chose HER to love — out of everyone in history — and chose to damn Himself rather than lose her … that THIS is the kind of God we serve, and THIS is the kind of love He has for us….

    And I wept as she finally understood.

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  15. My heart is soaring to read these comments! I love the Lord so much….He is so good! Thank ALL of you for taking the time to leave your thoughts and experiences. For others reading, please continue to do so!

    Scottie…I'm so glad she heard you. She is stepping in faith, yes? That Godis the One who calls her? Without faith it is "impossible to please Him" and yet even faith as small as a mustard seed is pleasing in His sight. He wants to be the One she seeks, follows, loves…He can make all things new and heal her relationships ~ I will pray for her and her family during this challenging time.

    Hope…I'd love to hear your story sometime, when and if you are willing. {{hugs}}

    Tammy, thanks for sharing your testimony! Praise the Lord for drawing you to Him and for His loving children who demonstrated His heart to you!

    Jane, thank you for loving the Father and seeking healing and truth. I know that you've had immense pain in your life and I thank the Lord that He is near to you and you to Him.

    Lionwoman ~ absolutely. This is similar to what I meant regarding doctrine over person…rules over relationship. Yet Jesus came to show us relationship…to reconcile us to God. Thanks for commenting!

    Grace, I agree with Sharon! I'm so glad God brought those people into your life. Beautiful words.

    Sandra, I look forward to seeing what that looks like for you. 🙂 {{hugs}}

    God bless all of you!

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  16. I feel like most days I'm still reaching, grasping after Jesus and some days I'm closer to throwing my hands up with it all. It's a hard line to run after the thing that, at times, looks as if it destroyed you.
    For me, it's the person of Jesus. In the quiet of the night, when I can't sleep and I am hurting all over, He is still the one that my heart yearns for and there is a reality in that.
    Sometimes I can't even reach my arms out for Him, but He's showed himself as Emmanuel, the God that's with me (even when my heart is wandering).
    It kind of hurts just to say those thing, because clinging to promises that have brought such chains into my life makes me want to cry… but Jesus himself, deserves the effort to be sought after, outside of what man has made Him into at times.
    I feel like justice should be paid on behalf of what a man has done to me, and that should only stir me in the direction of allowing Jesus the same priviledge. His name has been contorted and used for purposes that are contrary to His heart. For me, justice in that is seeking Him regardless.

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  17. Thanks Hilary! I wanted to touch on your question about what it would take for someone like me who has left the faith to come back. I left the last church I attended without the intention of leaving or "falling away" from God. I still wanted to love Him, but because those in authority over me presented themselves as God's voice to me, it had been years since I had experienced any real form of relationship with God.

    It has been almost 5 years since I left and I still consider myself on a journey, but at this point everything has been stripped away. All faith in God, Jesus, or even the possibility of an afterlife has dissolved and I am at peace with it. For a while, it caused a lot of angst and depression, but now I am content to wait and see.

    If God really exists and truly loves me then I'm sure my heart will be stirred again. I'm also willing for Him to speak to my mind as well, but so far, I haven't heard anything new or convincing. I am fairy convinced that all of this will have to occur outside of an organized church group of any kind as every time I look back at the many churches and ministries I've been involved in throughout my life, I see mostly abuses of authority and mini to full scale cults.

    So, I guess I have no idea what it would truly take for me to believe again, but I know its not likely to come from a pulpit or anything stamped "Christian" as nothing in my experience or reading has led me to believe that Jesus as a person ever intended to found a religion.

    Again, thanks for your words. I am always encouraged by what you have to say.

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  18. MV, thank you for adding your voice! It breaks my heart (and I believe God's, too) that you've experienced so much abuse in God's name. I am happy to see your quiet faith that "if God exists" He can draw you, from wherever you are on the journey. You are absolutely right. Thanks for stopping by. Hugs!

    Vedodili, I love how you define/explain justice…"seeking Him regardless." Indeed He is Emmanuel.

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  19. I received this insightful comment on my facebook wall and wanted to add it to the discussion:

    "Because there's still space in my faith for me to ask lots of questions and sit with doubt. If I couldn't ask the questions that are, or had to accept pat answers that fed cognitive dissonance, I'd have given up. I read so much of the Bible and see the Lord so accepting of desperate questioning, and I sit with my own unresolved, desperate questions… See More. My abuse happened underneath great "kindness", and so sometimes even proclamations of the Lord's kindness do little or nothing to reassure me, because I wonder what God's kindness is a cover up for or distraction from.

    But the fact that I can question and be suspicious of the Lord's kindness, without him either having to shut me up or play manipulative games to make my questions go away, gives me space to keep trusting and believing that he is trustworthy.

    Also, the cross. There's a lot a "kind", abusive person will do to convince someone that the abuse is just being imagined. But the cross (the whole incarnation really) is something that I can (usually) relate to as not manipulative, but genuine loving sacrifice."

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  20. Scottie,
    I have a friend walking through a similar situation to your friend. One thing a couple of us try to consistently remind her is that pain and suffering are normal, in this life. When/if she leaves the "certain" world she's been raised in, she will surely face suffering. A child may be sick, a spouse may die of cancer, she may end up struggling with a mental illness or have a car wreck. She might fail at a course of study she pursues. In a world of "certainty", all of those things "mean" something.

    But the reality is, that if she stayed in the world she now knows, she might also have a child with a severe disability, or a spouse die of cancer or fail at something, etc. etc.

    Those things happen. They are "normal" (albeit, miserably normal. The teaching that everything that happens is a direct message from God leaves people paralyzed and unable to move, within the realities and knowledge and wisdom that God has already given to them as members of the human race.

    We can make decisions, and we sometimes will fail. But that is HOW we learn and grow. It's not proof that we chose the wrong thing or missed God's will or whatever.

    The Holy Spirit is in us, and that doesn't mean that he has to give a final word on every single little thing we do. But he is in us, a part of us, he has renewed and made spiritually alive every part of us. We can walk in that confidence, imperfectly, making mistakes and everything.

    The consolation I have as a believer is not that now, if I just listen (and maybe squint and turn my head sideways) enough, I'll be able to do everything right. It is, rather, that the Lord is with me and faithful to me, in each and every situation I walk through.

    I don't always walk confidently or with certainty, even about that (i.e. the Lord's faithfulness), but, as always, he knows I am frail and weak, he knows the reasons for my doubt and uncertainty, and I believe, similar to what MV stated above, that if he IS faithful, His faithfulness is capable of continuing in spite of all that I can't believe or know with certainty. His faithfulness is not threatened or challenged by my pain and struggle and weakness, even by my weak faith. It doesn't depend on Him, but on me.

    I guess that's wandered from my original point to Scottie, but it's all connected in one big soapbox in my head :-). I just don't have to "know" that the step I'm taking is right OR ELSE God is going to "get me", hold me accountable or whatever. I can trust His heart towards me and trust Him to patiently show and grow and lead me, instead of fearing that I'm going to be hit over the head if this direction I'm going in isn't good….

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  21. MV, I've been thinking about your comment and it really hit me…you've pinpointed why abuse of authority (authoritarianism) is so evil, especially in this context…you said "because those in authority over me presented themselves as God's voice to me, it had been years since I had experienced any real form of relationship with God." When someone tells another person that "they are God's mouthpiece" to them (I heard from a 'quivering daughter' this week who had just heard this from her father) this absolutely prevents them from that relationship…a relationship is all about communication, trust, love, growth, learning, etc…in this environment none of that is possible and yet this is the very reason Jesus came to die.

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  22. Vedodilli,
    Thanks for sharing your story and your tears and your heart. Your words help me, today.

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  23. I'm a brand new commenter. I wasn't part of the quiverfull movement, but I was part of a christian cult for 12 years.

    God was my abuser. God was my abuser, God was my abuser, God was my abuser.

    It is only in the past month or so that I have finally been able to stop making excuses for what he has done and say this out loud. Like the quote on your page says, I no longer have any patience with those who will defend him over me.

    I have also realized that, even since being out of the cult for 7 years, the only reason I have stayed with God is a fear of hell. So basically, I haven't left God because I'm afraid of what he will do to me if I do. Classic abusive relationship. I'm still terrifed of him. You can't get a restraining order against God, or go to a battered womens shelter to be safe. However, I refuse to live whatever life I have left as his submissive victim.

    There is nothing that could willingly bring me back to him.

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  24. KatR, I am so sorry! Even though I have seen it done, I still cannot understand why people use God as an excuse to abuse others. That is so, so wrong!!! I don't have words to describe how wrong! People who purposely convince innocents that their proper protector and savior is actually their enemy are…well…nevermind. But they are BAD!

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  25. KatR, I am so sorry for the spiritual abuse you've experienced from others in God's name…:(

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  26. KatR, you are one brave woman. I share in so many of these feelings. *One* of my big reasons for breaking away from the faith is the hell thing. It might have driven me insane eventually. I cannot believe how doubleminded I was, experiencing on one hand a somewhat tender connection to God, yet also believing I had to actively fear and avoid unimaginable torment. Eventually, of course, this had to fall apart.

    Yes, there *may* be torment. God *may* a monster. But I'm not going to live my life based upon fear. There is more to life than fear, as paralyzing as that is. I'm holding out for something more, living my life based on something more. I don't even know what that is, other than something that humans have called "love" from time to time.

    Will that end up to include a radically different vision of God as love? I do not know. I just know there is something more than what I've known.

    And I applaud you on your own journey.

    (btw dear Luna, I am sorry I don't comment here more. You have such a wonderful place. <3)

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  27. I am still answering this question for myself. I do know one thing, for me being a christian without a church is not an option. I grew up that way, and my Dad was the Pope of our house. All descisions came through him, including all biblical interpretation. I never want to "make up my own version of Christianity as I go" and live under the delusion that I am the only one who got it right, ever again.

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  28. The reason I kept the faith in Jesus was that I read Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies (her story of finding Jesus) and she didn't look anything like the crazy fundies I had just spent a lot of time with. I call her my "spiritual mother" because she showed me that no matter what I do, or who I am, Jesus loves me.

    I think that freedom to wander in the wilderness a bit, to let go of the fear of "hell," and to just rest was a huge part of me finally looking up.

    Suddenly, I saw Jesus and His arms were open wide and I could run to those arms and there wasn't anyone in the way (no hovering patrios, no dark clouds of "sin," no dark forest of confusion blocking my view) and I ran for my life and right into those arms.

    Now that I got thru, those dark things still haunt me, they loom close and they freak me out a LOT. But I don't have to go through them anymore. With Jesus there is a back door to life (a third path, if you will): not patriarchy, not hell, but peace. With Jesus walking beside me, arms safely around me, they CAN NO LONGER touch me. Those years can't get to me. They try . . . all the time. My mind plays tricks on me. My emotions overwhelm, my fears take over. I just run for those arms every time.

    Jesus and I have a deal: I never have to go back into that stuff, I just have to trust that there is something greater than this world out there and it's LOVE, Jesus, the Lion of Narnia, whatever I or others need it to be. It's there. Jesus is there. I no longer have to fear.

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  29. Trish,

    Your comment echoes well what I feel has happened to me about "those dark things." I had some expectations that the darkness would go away entirely, and that some spots in my heart would no longer be tender.

    At one time, my loudest and most constant thoughts were the dark and hopeless ones, and I felt like I knew nothing but pain. I sought some magic cure, too, looking for immediate deliverance. I believe now that God used the dark things to teach me perseverance as He demonstrated His faithfulness to me gently in what I've heard described as "the backside of the desert" where He sent every prophet for a time.

    The thoughts have not gone away entirely, but over time and through determining every day (sometimes every moment!) to renew my mind and thoughts, the volume knob on their intensity gradually turned back to a minimum. And sometimes, when a tender spot in my heart takes a good poke, those thoughts seem momentarily LOUD. But they modulate back down quickly, quicker and quicker each time I feel them, too. And the diameter of the tender spots become smaller in diameter every time.

    (Tenderness is different than active pain. Tenderness describes the feeling or sensation of soreness when that area is touched.)

    Over time, I've made peace with the tender spots. Given the disturbing nature of some of the things I've endured, I've decided that it is inappropriate for the tender ache to go completely and entirely away. In a way, those spots stand as witnesses of the past, advocates who cry out about the injustices we all face. They "remind" me of the past when I take risks, bearing witness to me that my safety is important. (The "shoulds" always USED TO take priority over my sense of safety.) The tender spots say "You know what this feels like" which helps me have empathy for others, helping me fulfill 2 Cor 1:3-7 by comforting other with the comfort I received. They inform my sense of discernment, and in doing so, the tender spots become some of my wisest counselors.

    My flesh seems to translate the language of pain into something I understand as dark thoughts. The flesh and the parts of my heart that have not yet been transformed often speak to me in the language of discouragement and condemnation. If I'm too busy or distracted, or I am in outright denial, the appearance of too many dark things remind me that I've not taken care of myself, reminding me to renew my mind again. (And if I ignore the dark thoughts, my body tends to remind me of them in the way of physical aches and pains.)

    I think of this honesty when Hillary writes about the dark light. I've made those haunting dark things a part of my "discernment guidance system" on my journey from utter brokenness into wholeness, a tool that the Spirit uses to work all things together for good.

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  30. Cindy, that is profound. I'm going to have to think on that one a while. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!!!

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  31. Sharon,

    Thanks! My wheels have been turning, too, and I left something important out.

    I've been on a spontaneous Romans 8 kick today, and I wanted to point out the part of the chapter that speaks about the earth groaning in travail under the effects of sin. Paul wrote that the Spirit makes intercession for us through groanings that cannot be uttered.

    Especially when I feel overwhelmed emotionally (just like the momentarily overwhelming whack on one's "funny bone" with the lasting ache that follows), I specifically pray and ask the Lord to understand my pain and pondering as its own prayer of intercession, just like the earth travails. So often, I cannot find words to express the feelings and desires, and when I do, I don't ever feel like I can adequately wrap those words around the feelings to describe them. So I specifically pray and ask God who catches my every tear and knows all anyway to dedicate that pain as my imperfect groans of intercession for Him in and through the Spirit. I ask that it be used to work all things together for good (vs 28), to conform me into the image of Jesus, and to somehow let it be used to minister to others in a host of saving ways (vs 29).

    Paul doesn't say specifically that we are supposed to do this in this way. I struggle with what is the pain of my flesh dying and what is empathy and intercession, so this is just what I do, asking God to redeem ("to buy back") the bad so that it can be used for good. (Empathy describes a connection with others, recalling a similar pain and sharing it as opposed to straight compassion which is more detached from the other person.) This helps me not be self-centered in my own pain (as pain demands self-centered attention), but it helps me keep mindful and discerning, too. Boundaries become harder to establish, maintain, and defend when you're in pain, so I pray for help in this way too.

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  32. You cannot "follow a God who hates authoritarianism, who prizes mercy over judgment, who values person over doctrine" because no such God exists.

    Why do you need to be a follower of any particular mythology? Why not give up your imaginary friend, stand on your own 2 feet, and use your education, intellect, heart, and intuition to forge your own life?

    I know I'm wasting my time posting here, but every now and then I do make an effort at outreach. I watched as much of Left Behind 2 as I could stand a few nights ago, and decided to make more of an effort, in part because I think Kirk Cameron would probably have been better off choosing heroin over the religion addiction he did choose. Drug addicts, at least, know there's something wrong with the crutch they use to get through life. Christianists, like Islamists, are certain that what they're doing is right.

    It appears you're wise enough not to believe in Zeus, Allah, Osiris, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Inanna, or Krishna– why do you persist in believing in some mendicant Middle Easterner who, nowadays, would be strait-jacketed, locked-up, and Thorazined until he came to his senses?

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  33. Chris, I'm not sure I follow you. If we aren't supposed to have any crutches, what are we supposed to do with pain?

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  34. Chris…Your statement…

    "Why not give up your imaginary friend, stand on your own 2 feet, and use your education, intellect, heart, and intuition to forge your own life?"

    I can't speak for everyone here, and others here could likely address your point far better than I can, but in essence, I choose to follow my God precisely because He equips me to stand on my own two feet and use the traits and qualities He instilled in me. I stand wholeheartedly against patriocentricity (or Christian Islam as I like to call it) and much of the fundamentalist community because it forcefully takes that God-given opportunity away from innocent victims.

    I rely on God and His word for direction, but I don't rely on God to be my celestial bellhop. I do what I'm empowered to do, and I don't blame Him for the success or failure of my undertakings and choices.

    I prefer to think of God as my friend and loving Father rather than my taskmaster or puppetmaster. I absolutely use my faith as a crutch. It's comforting. Much the same as how we rely on friends and family in times of crisis. But again, it isn't such a crutch that I blame God for outcomes. For instance, it's always bothered me to see victorious athletes thank "their Lord and Savior" for their victories, but you never hear them say "I'd like to thank Jesus Christ for helping me to lose this game today. I couldn't have thrown that interception without His help."

    I trust God for opportunities, and for the wisdom to take advantage of them. When they don't work out, rather than blame Him, I choose to pour out my pain to Him. It's a lot cheaper than therapy, and much more fulfilling.

    You may not see eye to eye with my view (and that's fine), and many here who share my faith may not see eye to eye with my view (and that's fine too).

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  35. Lewis, your comment is very, very beautiful. My only quibble is that you are relying for direction on something that doesn't exist.

    In other words, the voice of God is a voice in your head.

    Sharon, it is absolutely not my place to tell you what to do with pain. What I do is feel it, acknowledge it, and then respond to it. Maybe I don't take any actions, maybe I cry, maybe I reach out to someone and talk, maybe I write. I process it.

    To be honest, I don't see what pain has to do with imaginary friends. Maybe I'm misunderstanding your comment? Could you say more?

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  36. Chris: While the tone of your comments seems to imply that you're fishing for a flame war, I'll assume you're simply not coming across as tactfully as you intended. However, I would like to point out that the general direction of your comments seems to be rather off-topic from the intention of the original blog post.

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  37. Chris,

    These comments were not all addressed to me, but my original thoughts after your first comment posted here overlap with the very questions and comments you’ve posed to others. I’d like to respond, and maybe I can help save someone else some typing!

    First, Scottie Moser is right to say that this blog addresses a serious problem of a sub-group within a particular religious tradition in an effort to help the bruised and broken within that subgroup find validation, comfort, hope and healing. I don’t think that anyone who participates here is averse to discussing why we believe what we do, but your adversarial tone does seriously derail the very focused, productive discussion that the blog intends to foster. I believe that I am right to say that the blog host intends to make this a safe and caring place where the wounded soul who is sometimes very fragile can find a gentle place to read and speak. Your adversarial tone does not foster this for these others who do not share your place in life, your belief system, and likely do not have the benefit of the internal resources that you do yourself. I think Scottie has kindly asked you to have some consideration for them as well as this effort.

    The blog host’s effort to work toward productive and helpful solutions to these specific and serious problems is no easy or light consideration and comes at a high personal price. Hillary has put aside personal comfort and other ambitions in life to be an agent of change at the risk of what can be very painful opposition. (And we’ve got more than enough adversarial folks within our own camp to contend with, just dealing with the specific problems themselves! 😉 ) I would hope that you would stop and consider this effort as something courageous, altruistic, and admirable, demonstrating that some people are willing to put themselves in harms way in order to help those who have suffered like they have. Alone as a consideration, I believe that this is an admirable effort.

    I think that there is also virtue in seeking to attend to the “inconsistencies”with in one’s own belief system, demonstrating a desire to see Christians in general show themselves accountable as a group, particularly when Christians see themselves as the group that should be setting the best ethical standard for those outside of the faith. The truth is that in terms of what goes on in some of these sub-groups, we fall terribly short of that as a group. I think that this effort also demonstrates great integrity, and many non-Christians have expressed their great respect and support of this effort though they don’t share our beliefs. We are trying to “clean our own pot” as opposed to “calling all kettles outside the Christian faith black.” There is a respect worthy virtue and humble honesty in such an effort, too, I believe.

    I ask that you consider these things if you have not done so already, and I apologize if you have already considered them specifically in this light.

    I think it is an understatement to say that you do not share a sense of camaraderie with those in the sub-group or in the population of those who follow Christianity such as it is laid out well in Hillary’s FAQs section for the blog! In that sense, I think that Scottie Moser makes an excellent point that “the general direction of your comments seems to be rather off-topic from the intention of the original blog post.”

    Again, I don’t think that anyone is averse to exploring these matters, but within the population of Christians and within the sub-group of interest, our discussions here can be antagonistic enough on their own because of the difficult aspects and nature of the topic.

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  38. More to Chris!

    You’ve posed some questions to others here (which I didn’t have room to address and would like to do so). I think it speaks favorably of you that you’ve asked them, showing that you do want to understand where we presumable nutcases are coming from!

    What you call an imaginary friend or wishful thinking, I call faith, and it is the only thing that I’ve found (after great thought and devotion to a host of subjects from Christian and secular study) that gives me hope and transcendence. Every other consideration I’ve explored has given me a sense of despair and nihilism. And what you and others might call a delusion of causality, I believe with all my heart to be real. As Lewis says, it’s fine if we don’t agree.

    Dr. Michael Persinger jumps into my mind, a brilliant neurophysiologist who developed the “God Helmet” which uses magnets to put people into altered states of consciousness, specifically with the ability to induce religious experiences (as well as treatments for problems like depression, etc.). On a professional level, I know that he believes we are just creatures that create elaborate myths of spirituality to explain experiences that he understands as purely physiologic phenomena. We agree on the mechanisms of what happens – certain things trigger certain responses, and there is an absolute physical thing that happens which creates an ethereal experience. I share his fascination with the occurrence and the process. But I don’t share his causality, because I believe that what he describes was a created mechanism by the Engineer of engineers, by my Creator God.

    I can respect Persinger for where he is in his causality, as he has lived a very different life than I have. And Persinger respects me and would not demean my beliefs. People, Christian or not, should be able to live meaningful lives and I’d love to see them all do so. In that general disposition, I think that we can have respect for others who believe different things and construct different causalities and explanations for things without being demeaning on a personal level. It comes through a general respect for mankind and an understanding that different beliefs do not diminish my confidence and my self. It’s just different. (And I’m happy as long as my own life and liberty are respected and maintainted.) I’d fight and die for Persinger to have a right to disagree with me.

    In terms of Christianity, I’d love to see Persinger become a Christian. I’d love to have the opportunity to share my faith and my reasons for embracing my causality, my explanation of the hows and whys things are. And I’d be totally honest with him about my desires to see him change his mind so that he shares my beliefs. (The changing process is God’s territory, not man’s, IMO.) In that process, I am grateful that I can have an atmosphere of respect for that discussion. And if he thinks I’m deluded, I will show him respect and kindness anyway.

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  39. Chris said…

    Lewis, your comment is very, very beautiful. My only quibble is that you are relying for direction on something that doesn't exist.

    In other words, the voice of God is a voice in your head.

    Sharon, it is absolutely not my place to tell you what to do with pain. What I do is feel it, acknowledge it, and then respond to it. Maybe I don't take any actions, maybe I cry, maybe I reach out to someone and talk, maybe I write. I process it.

    To be honest, I don't see what pain has to do with imaginary friends. Maybe I'm misunderstanding your comment? Could you say more?

    Wrapping up…

    Chris,

    Do you see that people here have shown you kind respect in ways that you have not?

    In your opinion, our causality has no basis in fact. Fine. We all get that, both you and the rest of us.

    Why must it include demeaning terms like "imaginary friends" and wholesale discounting of everything. People, behavior, experience, and the like are complex processes. Every human being is on a different page in terms of understanding what all that means and how to make sense of it all so that they can have meaningful lives. You believe that we can't do so with our beliefs, and I (we) don't think you can have as meaningful of a life as we can and more so in what we understand as an eternal sense by not sharing our beliefs. We are all okay with that. We respect you for it, even.

    Why can't we be offered the same consideration and respect?

    Those writing here are trying to make sense and the best lemonade out of some of the sour lemons we've found ourselves with. Can we at least get some respect for that?

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  40. Chris, I appreciate your concerns and efforts at "outreach". From your position of atheism, I'm sure you've heard a thousand plus arguments from Christians regarding proof that God exists and to be honest, I'm not a very good arguer (okay those who know me in real life can stop laughing now).

    I really appreciate St. Francis of Assisi's statement, "Preach the gospel always, If necessary use words." I do believe that each of our worldviews come by faith; by faith I believe God exists, and that Jesus is the Son of God. I would venture to say (with respect) that by faith you do not believe those things. And that we each hope the other would come to our respective conclusions. =)

    I'll be the first to admit that I have a relatively simple mind compared to the mental prowess of the atheists I've interacted with. I would be a boring target if you want to debate because I simply can't keep up and it's not an area of strength for me. If there is anything you wish to dialogue about regarding my faith, I will humbly do the best I can.

    I appreciate everyone's comments! While it's true that the blog has a different purpose, this post actually opened with two questions by atheists so it was the most appropriate place, of any, for this discussion. I've learned a lot from everyone and am blessed to have all of you!

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  41. I certainly didn't mean to be disrespectful. I absolutely don't respect your dangerously misguided beliefs, but I have a great deal of respect for all of the posters I've read here. I know a bit about Hillary from another site; I have an immense amount of respect for her, especially. And I am not looking for a flame war. I posted for exactly the reason I said I did, outreach.

    First of all, I am not an atheist, at least not by the commonly accepted definition. I believe in a power beyond myself. It would be more accurate to call me an atheologist. I reject stories about anthropomorphic superbeings, because I understand that humans invented those superbeings to explain how the world works and to gain control over other humans. I also recognize that a belief in a power beyond oneself or in a god is just that — a belief.

    And beliefs are not facts, so none of my morals, hopes, or goals is founded on my belief (which isn't that important to me, I just believe it.) Building a life on a foundation of myths — as Christians do when they believe there's some big scorekeeper in the sky, keeping track of their "sins", or as Muslims do when they dedicate themselves to killing the infidel, or as Hindus do when they believe a child born with cerebral palsy did something evil in a past life — limits human happiness and endangers our common future.

    On a related note, I'm all for stories in the Bible, Koran, or Tao, etc. having emotional or metaphorical truth. Some of the people who wrote the stories in those books were very wise. But the acceptance of those stories as literal truth, followed by claims that your particular literal truth is the only way to get the approval of a Being that doesn't exist, is inimical to the interests of humanity.

    No one has ever presented me with any evidence that Jesus was the son of God, or that God handed Moses some stone tablets, or that when Shiva opens his third eye the world will end. Obviously not. No such evidence exists.

    I'm stunned at those of you who say your myths are your comfort or your only hope of transcendence. Our amazing universe is so full of beauty and fascination and wonder and ugliness and pain and sorrow and everything! It gives me everything I need, and although I certainly understand other people would have different needs from me, I honestly don't understand people taking comfort in myth. Illusions are dangerous; I find reality very comforting, and often quite transcendent. I saw the Taj Mahal for the first time 2 months ago . Now, that's transcendence. And so is Bach. [continued]

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  42. [cont.]
    Although, one of the main functions of religion is to set up an in-group and an out-group, and then to bolster the self-esteem of the in-group by making then feel they have secret knowledge, so maybe that's where the comfort derives from.

    Incidentally, the in-group/out-group phenomenon is one of the main reasons so many recent Islamic terrorists became radicalized after they moved to the West. They spent their whole lives in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or wherever, being told that Islam made them superior and that Allah had given them the best of everything. When they moved West, they saw that Berlin is nicer than Cairo. They couldn't deny that what they'd been told was a lie and they couldn't admit that what they'd been told was a lie. So they sought release from their cognitive dissonance the best way they could.

    Hillary, thank you for making me feel welcome. I didn't mean to derail your thread or the purpose of your blog. I just was so worried when I saw Kirk Cameron on TV with his nonsense that I came to your blog and, well, did outreach.

    I am enjoying this dialogue, and quite frankly, being the type of person I am, I really value talking to people whose beliefs are different from mine. It's how I learn. But I don't want to disrupt all of you from what you're doing here, and I don't want to give you false hope that you could convert me, because natural science and the social sciences do a much better job of explaining the world than religion, so it's time to nail the undead corpse of monotheistic superstition into its little coffin and float it down the river. Also, if my frontal lobes were configured for religious faith, we'd know by now. So you'd truly be wasting your time.

    If anyone would like to contact me, I could leave my email. Cindy, I especially extend that to you because I wanted to reply more to what you said and just felt I'd run on long enough. I really appreciated your response.

    Also, I do anti-cult work, so if there's anything I can offer there, I'd be very happy to help. I have to tell you, from your replies to me you seem very far along the road to recovery from whatever cultic milieu you might have been exposed to.

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  43. FTR, I totally agree with you about the Left Behind books/movies and want you to know that I think they're a bunch of hogwash. 🙂 And I'm a follower of Christ. Also, I believe everyone here would agree with you about the purpose and consequences of religion. Most of us have completely rejected it. We here are focused wholly on the Person of Jesus Christ…how to live with compassion, mercy, love, justice, and joy like He did. That's all. Pretty simple and a sigh or relief for those of us coming out of strict religious systems. Nothing dangerous or sinister there.

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  44. Chris,

    Thank you for your response! Your PFC may be wired for naturalism, but I've got a left temporal lobe that probably glows in the dark! I might actually be able to short circuit Persinger's helmet if anyone could. 😉

    To avoid the spam bots, click on my name, go to my site, and send me an email if you'd like to connect offline.

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  45. I still am a Christian because i knew God, before people in the name of God abused me. When i got confused about what they were saying was God for a time and in my desire to please Him followed in this way. But as i left, I discovered that all through the ages people have been using truth and the Word of God to hurt and harm others, just as much as it is used to bless others. Without God, I have nothing, the pain I have suffered is simply pain and heartache. With God, I can let that pain make me a better person and try to help other hurting people.

    I might not be your typical person who was abused by patriarchal society and a cultic church. I appreciate what you are trying to do, even if our paths have led us different ways…..I have stuck with the beliefs I had as a girl, because they were my own beliefs that i felt called to by God…not what someone told me to do.

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  46. I am still a Christian because God was never OK with the abuse I underwent. He was there with me the entire time – I could feel him. He listened when I prayed and answered my prayers. He was and is very real to me. I have seen enough proof that God exists for ten life-times and have felt his love – that love that takes over you until the whole world disappears and you suddenly understand everything – but afterword you can't remember any of it. I had several unearthly encounters with God throughout my growing up years. He loved me and he brought me through. He has never and never will condone abuse. You can't "throw out the baby with the bathwater" as my mother used to say. Just because someone took a belief found in the bible and twisted it so that it became a horrible horrible thing does not mean that God was OK with it, or that a belief in the Christian faith is false.

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  48. "christians shoot their wounded"
    Chuck Girard, christian musician

    "We are but dust" it says in the scripture and the little kid hearing that asks "Mommy, what's butt dust?"

    "Humor, it is a difficult concept." comment from Spock, Star Trek vulcan.

    All those comments above to show that any of us are far from perfect and need to take ourselves less seriously.

    If you want to find why christians continue in the faith even when deeply hurt and discouraged, read the bible old testament and you will see that God's people have been sinners, users, murderers, rapists, theives, etc from the beginning. It comes down to "grace, greater than all our sin". It is He who keeps us.

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  49. Fortunately, I discovered God before my descent into Fundamentalism, purity movement, legalism, and Christian culture. When I reached the point where I realized I believed those teachings to be false, I still had a foundation to fall back on. I knew God as separate from all those things once upon a time, and so I reverted back to that. My views are always changing the more I learn, and I'm still seeking truth, but I'm glad my belief in God was not tied up completely in the parts of religion I have left behind.

    It was hard enough for me to do; I can't imagine how difficult it must be for others whose whole experience with God is wrapped up with negative teachings.

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