Adventures in Proselityzing: It’s Not a Religion. It’s a Relationship…With Someone Who Tears Me Down

It’s been a really long time since I’ve found myself cornered by an Evangelical Christian hell-bent on telling me all the ways that they aren’t “religious” but “in a relationship with Jesus” who, of course, is the best friend, counselor, teacher, etc. that I could have if I would only convert.

This week brought that streak to a sudden halt.

It came out of nowhere…it had to in order to catch me off-guard and prevent my escaping before it happened.

I was surprised by what it brought up for me. Or rather, what it didn’t bring up.

Generally when I have previously been witnessed to, I’ve been able to hold my ground, but inside I’m trembling, triggered, angry, and secretly terrified that the spiritual onslaught will never end. I’ve never been the type to lash out at those who try to slip their proselytizing into a “casual” conversation, but I’ve never felt particularly strong or compassionate either.

Usually it mirrors the way that I feel about getting harassed by a stranger at a bar. I might smile and decline politely, but it’s coming from a place of fear that suspects that things will only be worse for me if I express outrage. It’s a placating kindness.

However, when I suddenly realized I was in a room with someone who was going to “witness” as if my life depended on it (which to her it probably did), I was shocked to realize that it didn’t feel threatening.

I still didn’t want to listen. I’ve heard it all before. Hell, I’ve said it all before!

But the dominant emotion wasn’t fear or rage. It was somewhere on the spectrum of pity and amusement.

Amusement because despite her attempts to sound genuine as hell and to convince me she wasn’t talking about a religion, it was as canned a response as if she had broken out into a Hail Mary. They were memorized phrases that she had been instructed in how to use in her witnessing to convince others that her religious expression was more genuine than any other type of Christian’s.

The pity came in at the way that she couldn’t help but devalue herself in the process. In order to talk about how wonderful Jesus was to her, she had to talk about how unworthy she was of God’s love and how imperfect and depraved a person she was because, for her, the wonder of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice was in that it wasn’t “deserved” but given in spite of it all.

She couldn’t build up the object she wanted to share with me without creating a foundation that tore herself down.

I realized at one point that we actually shared something in common. As a Pagan, I also don’t believe I am particularly perfect. I have a shadow side. I have less than admirable motivations and compulsions to work through. I make mistakes.

However, the difference is that I don’t see myself as needing to be “saved.” I don’t see my flaws and imperfections as indications of how worthless I am. I especially don’t think that the answer is to eradicate myself and replace myself with an inner Jesus.

Within her framework, there is no room for anything but shame towards the self.

In contrast, my spiritual inclinations help me celebrate that I am not perfect. Perfection would be boring. Or just nauseating. It’s in the imperfections that growth happens…and growth is part of life.

I have no desire to destroy those parts of myself that are flawed. Rather, I want to engage with them, learn from them, integrate with them, and transform them.

Having come from the same shame that I saw her expressing, I can remember how devastatingly awful it was. Brene Brown says, “Shame drives disconnection.” That is true especially with the existential shame that certain sects of Christianity try to foist on members. This kind of shame drives a repulsion of the self, which in turn drives shallow interactions with others built on judgment and fusion.

I could recognize this time around that this woman posed no threat to me. She wasn’t even fully present in the interaction as she spouted off her memorized phrases. She was speaking from a fragmented and alienated self, and I felt sad that she was caught up in that and desperately thankful that I had escaped.

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Conversion Stories: Happy Eternity in Hell!

I must say, this is one of the more unusual and amusing conversion attempts I’ve ever had! I was “blessed” with the opportunity of having a political conversation turn to the Bible. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly expressing any political opinion outside of a conservative one will bring out the Jesus freaks.

In this case, I was discussing marriage equality. Interestingly, it didn’t start out with the usual pro- versus anti- marriage equality for lgbt. In fact, no one was really disputing the fact that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The deeper question, instead, was whether polygamy should be legal.

I probably take a more radical approach to marriage equality, believing that the government really doesn’t have any business defining or determining what a legitimate marriage is. If someone wants to marry fifty consenting people, that’s their business. If another person wants to marry as a contractual agreement to get health insurance or gain access to citizenship, also their own business.

We didn’t actually get that far in the conversation though. I had barely expressed my support for marriage equality for polygamists when new guy jumps on, calling me a witch.

I didn’t assume it was serious. I thought it was a joke at first, perhaps a petty attempt to shame me. Since an insult first requires a negative view of the label, I wasn’t insulted. I responded with a light-hearted comment about being proud to be a witch if that meant standing for marriage equality.

After a few more random and incomprehensible comments, this guy asked, “Have you read your Bible lately?”

I love that he assumed I have a Bible (or want one), but I let that go. “No, I’ve had enough of that for one lifetime.”

Then he said, “And you guys will lose . . . Bible prophesy, actually Bible code!”

I can only assume he was talking about the election here. Still trying to keep things light, I joked that I might win if I hexed him. I even pulled out the big guns and dropped a few names of people I know in high places. “I’ve got a pretty good relationship with Santa. We met under the Christmas tree a few times last year, and he owes me some favors.”

By that time, I was practically wetting myself laughing because this guy was taking me seriously! It was like a mouse being handed to a cat. I just couldn’t resist the play.

“I’m not afraid of you!” he cried back.

Seeing an opportunity to end the conversation somewhat amicably, I replied, “Nor I of you. That’s the point.”

But did he take the point? No, or course not. That would have been too boringly easy.

“No,” he admitted, “but you are afraid of my God.”

I suppose he felt he was making one hell of a zinger, but in what universe does my scoffing translate to fear of his god? If I were afraid of his god, I would still be a Christian. I really shouldn’t have had to point out the obvious, but I did.

Then this oh-so-kind-and-godly Christian told me, “Happy eternity in hell!”

Looking back at the exchange now that the election is over, I have to smile at the fact that his predictions proved false. I wonder if he thinks I really did hex him or if he’s still trying to convince himself that his god didn’t somehow fail him. I’m sure he’s able to comfort himself to some extent with the idea that I’m still going to hell for all eternity.

And I can comfort myself with the promise of peace and happiness down there while all the Christians like him are safely contained up in heaven where they can eat each other alive over their doctrinal differences. I get the feeling that God might come down and join us heathens just to get away from the snarling piety. The tolerant Christians are welcome to join us too. But hell doesn’t put up with conversion attempts, so leave the proselytizing at the gate.

To Hell With Hell

I guess this could be considered my first official conversion story and interfaith ramble. I do need one to match the description I’ve given myself, after all.

Part of what prompted the start of this blog was a conversation I was having on a friend’s wall about abortion. It’s not hard to guess that I’m pro-choice. However that doesn’t mean I’m pro-abortion or anti-life. I value life a lot, which is why I think that such a heavy decision as to whether to bring life into the world shouldn’t be made lightly, especially when bringing new life into the world will have such a huge impact on an already existing life.

I’m really not here to talk about abortion, and for this blog post, at least, I won’t approve comments trying to delve into the topic. This is the backstory.

Now, back to the story.

As I said, the topic was abortion. I was having a relatively great discussion with people from multiple perspectives about whether abortion should be legal. It ranged from discussing the place of religious conviction in legal matters to scientific perspectives to philosophical questions about the beginning of life. It was an all-around good, respectful discussion.

Suddenly, this woman jumped on, throwing around the God card. I’m not opposed to God or someone holding a religiously backed belief. I’m just opposed to it being imposed on me. I responded by listing other religious traditions and religiously backed beliefs about abortion that differ from conservative Christianity (yes, there are actually others out there).

The woman then dropped the conversation completely and asked, “Do you know where you’re going to go when you die?”

In my experience, there are only two reasons why someone would ask that question. Actually one, but two approaches. The reason is to establish a sense of superiority. If I say I’m a Christian, she assumes a version of appeal to authority where she steps in as a parent with the “you should know better” attitude of correction. If I say I’m not a Christian, the actual topic at hand is conveniently forgotten in the new interest of trying to convince me to escape hell.

Well, I precluded both options.

I replied, “I don’t care.”

Actually it was longer than that and a little more derisive, but the gist of it was that I really don’t care. And here’s why: you can never know.

Seriously, you can never know whether your belief in the afterlife or in god/s is accurate or true.

“But what about the Bible?”

What about it? It’s a self-validating book of writings by men who claimed to have encountered God and recorded what they think God wanted. There are a lot of those types of self-validating books. There are even multiple versions of the Bible with different writings in them. Just because it claims to be true and you believe it doesn’t mean that your belief is assured. That’s basic common sense. It’s a secondary source at best, more likely tertiary or worse. Try using those kinds of sources in an academic paper and see if the teacher calls it good research.

I’m not an atheist. I have my rituals and beliefs too. I dance in the light of the full moon, chant, meditate, will work a binding spell on someone trying to harm me, pray sometimes, and even read the Bible. But the way I look at it, you either believe what you do out of fear or you believe it because you want to.

I spent a quarter of my life believing out of fear. I overlooked mistreatment of myself and others, shut my eyes to science, ignored history, drove myself crazy trying to create logic from illogic, bent over backwards to justify things that weren’t just hypocritical but felt downright wrong, and basically denied what I felt and experienced as truth in order to believe what I was taught because I was too afraid of the big, angry God in the sky who would send me to hell if I dared to question too much.

And I’m done with that!

I really don’t care where I go when I die because a god who violates his own principles of morality and acts like the quintessential abuser isn’t worth my time, and an afterlife that can only be gained by living a miserable, hateful, ignorant life on earth isn’t worth pursuing.

After you’ve all released gasps that surely came with my blasphemous declaration, now ask why I do what I do? Why do I meditate, burn incense, or attempt to commune with a Divine being?

Because it doesn’t hurt. In fact, it makes me happy. Those things help me appreciate life. I’m not using them to beat another into submission. I don’t need some religious book to determine my morality. And whether when I pray I actually tap into something bigger than myself or merely tap into myself, it helps me deal with life. I’ve discovered that there is a beautiful form of spirituality that comes when belief isn’t a means of distracting from reality but rather a means of enhancing it.

Imagine that! I can enjoy the discoveries of science without finding my spiritual path threatened, and I can follow a spiritual path without needing to block out the discoveries made in the world around me!

I’ve stopped believing out of fear and started believing because it enriches my life and helps order my universe in a way that I can understand. And others are free to do the same for themselves because the beauty of my faith isn’t determined by a need to prove myself right on a subject that is impossible to prove. Later, I’ll delve a bit into the process of becoming comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, but for now, I just want to leave you with this.

I don’t care where I go when I die because my life is so beautiful and worthwhile now that I wouldn’t do anything different even if I knew what would happen when I die. This life, right here, right now, is enough. If there’s more to come later, it shouldn’t detract from the one I’m currently living. The things that make it a “good life” shouldn’t change. I may not live only once, but I only live this life once. And I’m much more concerned with actually living it than enduring it until I reach the next.

Why the hell am I blogging?

I am actually asking myself that question as I type. I’ve stayed away from blogging for years, partially because the blogs I admire I feel I can never live up to and partially because the blogs I find annoying I feel are pathetic, attention seeking public diaries. I don’t really want to find out which of those categories I fall into.

I have a feeling this will be a multipurpose place for me to explore my many passions, from sexuality and feminist issues to creative projects to ranting and processing my slightly new status as an “apostate” of Christianity. I do have to face some facts, one of which is recognizing that my mind is too scattered to devote an entire blog to just one thing. But, the apostasy status is kind of why I started this blog now instead of playing with the idea for another year.

I wasn’t always interfaith, as I’ve taken to describing myself. It doesn’t take people long to learn that I spent the first 21 years of my life in fundamentalist Christianity. Losing your religion is hard, and my journey has been a radical one, to say the least. While I used to be the good little fundy girl, in my jean skirt, going around “witnessing” to people, I now find myself on the receiving end of such obnoxious conversion attempts.

Don’t get me wrong! I don’t hate Christianity . . . much . . . since leaving. I have many Christian friends and totally respect their beliefs. I understand where they’re coming from and will even engage in conversation about biblical topics. But I really never realized how awkward and, dare I say, insulting the whole proselytizing thing was until I wasn’t the proselytizer. How was I ever in such an insulated bubble of ignorance that I thought inserting “Do you know where you’re going to go when you die?” into a conversation that had nothing whatsoever to do with faith was a “tactful” way of sharing my beliefs? What’s more, what is it about me that attracts these conversion attempts now? Is it some kind of karmic payback that I can’t have a conversation with someone at work without being shown a picture of the white light that appeared just before they were miraculously “saved”?

After the most recent onslaught of concern for my hell-bent soul, a friend of mine suggested it would be fun to keep a blog record of the various ways that people try to convert me. So here I am, writing my first blog entry, wondering if I’m rambling too much. I might have enough conversion stories to fill my blog, but I don’t want it to just be about that either. While the cool-aid drinking fundyland of my past will always affect me, my life is so much bigger than what I left behind. I hope this blog will reflect the complexity of my journey and the magic that I’ve discovered in living a life that isn’t controlled by fear of hell. Hang on tight!