How I Left Christianity Part 3: Authority Figures Can Be Wrong

Children are taught to trust authority figures: parents, teachers, pastors, policemen–the list goes on and on. When you’re a child, every adult is an authority figure. You watch and learn that adults have authority figures, too–parishioners defer to the pastor, parents to the police, teachers to the principal. The authority figures that even adults defer to are given even higher status in a child’s mind. Once a person is given such status in childhood, most often that status will remain unchallenged by the child as she grows into adulthood.

When an adult has this status, their word is infallible. What they say must be true. What they order must be obeyed. What they believe is right.

This is why Christians work so hard to isolate themselves from nonbelievers, as well as to drive non-Christians (and other undesireables, such as LGBTQI people) out of the public eye. If children (or “young” Christians) see that adults disagree, or that certain truths are anything but (like LGBTQI people being depraved, disease-ridden, and unhappy) then their status as authority figures and Holders of Truth begins to unravel. Awkward questions will be asked. Absolute trust begins to crumble.

Now, eventually all children learn this lesson, as they grow older and begin to interact in less hierarchical ways with adults. But learning this lesson in regards to my spiritual authorities was absolutely vital.

One can be an adult in every other matter–age, autonomy, maturity, financially–but still spiritually be a child. That is, depending on a pastor, a book, a denomination, etc. for answers and guidance spiritually. Until you seek out answers for yourself, until you ask yourself questions, you will never be anything but dependent on another in this regard.

It may be something as simple as quoting a bible verse wrong, or claiming to act in accordance with the bible while actually doing the opposite, that triggers the realization that spiritual authorities can be, and very often are wrong. You have to start asking little questions about small matters before you can make the leap to asking the big questions.

That’s what happened to me. I witnessed several things that made me realize that these people that I believed had the truth about God–were wrong. If they were wrong about these things, what else could they be wrong about? Perhaps I should ask someone else? Perhaps I should find out on my own?

Note: I’m going to write about a couple of these events later in the series, because they had a very big impact on me–that’s why I’m not giving specifics here.

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About Brittany-Ann
Brittany-Ann is a proud, self-identified feminist with fictional tendencies. She currently writes for LouisvilleKY.com and moderates at My Fault I'm Female. She smokes camels, reads Dumas, and navigates a conservative state as "one of them darn liberals."

8 Responses to How I Left Christianity Part 3: Authority Figures Can Be Wrong

  1. Michael Mock says:

    In the second paragraph, shouldn’t that be “infallible”?

    I’m enjoying this, and looking forward to future entries. Please keep going!

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      Yes, it should be. Thanks for pointing out the error!

      It’s turning out to be quite an interesting exercise for me. I’ve never thought about the relatively minor circumstances that pushed me out of Christianity before, just the major events.

  2. MJ says:

    Ugh, yes to this. I once had my pastor call me out and slut shamed me in front of the entire church because he saw me walking down the street with two guys. I was sitting there with my mouth hanging open, thinking, “I was with my cousin! We were going to get his haircut!” It was just like, wow, you read that situation so, so, wrong.

    Looking back, I wish I had stood up and said something, rather than just staying quiet. Of course, when you’re fourteen and still in the grips of the church, that’s hard to do.

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      I had many moments like those. So many. I wondered where their minds were, that such things were the first thing they thought of. Sometimes I stood up, and sometimes I simply scoffed and turned away. I’m sure they thought I was a right little rebel.

  3. Friends, I can only say how sorry I am that you were so badly treated by people who incorrectly believed they were acting in the name of Christ. Saying that you are acting in God’s name when you are not acting as God would want is the most basic meaning for “taking God’s name in vain.” Christianity includes hundreds of denominations and many unaffiliated congregations. If you want, you will find a congregation that treats you with respect and dignifies you as a thinking person. Even in the South, where I also live. Blessings to all on this thread who learned by past mistreatment that the Christian God endorses bullies. May the Truth set you free.

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      Carlene,

      I’m not entirely sure what you’re trying to do here. Are you encouraging me to find a church that will treat me respectfully? If it weren’t for this sentence, I’d say you were:

      “Blessings to all on this thread who learned by past mistreatment that the Christian God endorses bullies.

      As it is, I’m confused. I have a lot I’d like to say in response, but I don’t want to go any further while I’m unclear on your intent.

      • I’m sorry I was unclear. Yes, that’s what I meant. I meant blessings to those who learned an incorrect lesson: that the Christian God endorses bullies.

        You talked specifically about having experienced life in the Southern Baptist church. I was living in the North when it was hit with a tidal wave of refugees as the SBC right-wing gained control during the early 1990s. One of my dearest mentors, now deceased, helped to found the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which very quickly became the largest “splinter” group from the SBC — I think it was 11,000 congregations within maybe 5 years.

        I don’t know what it’s like to be a child in an abusive congregation. I do know what it’s like to be an adult in one. I’m glad you’re not in an abusive congregation today. I’m just hope you haven’t determined that Christianity is, by its nature, an abusive faith.

        • Brittany-Ann says:

          A person’s faith is of no consequence to me. To me, what’s important is the actions a person takes. To believe in God, the father, the son, and the holy spirit? To believe in a heaven and hell? It doesn’t matter to me. What a person does on this earth does matter to me. Do you hate, or do you love? Do you stand up for justice and equality, or do you degenerate others to protect your own elevated status? If you are a leader–do you lead your people with integrity? Are you a “follow me” leader or a “go on ahead” leader? Do you abuse your power? Are you compassionate? Do you help others? Or do you turn your head and “hate the sin”?

          Christianity as an institution, however, is abusive. It snatches up power–collecting money, spreading fear of the Other, and writing legislation to enforce its own dogmas on unwilling participants. This power grab has abused many in the process, including me. Do I think it killed my faith? Partly. It certainly didn’t help. While I cannot know for sure, I don’t believe, even if I hadn’t been abused by Christianity, that I would have stayed a Christian. All of the things that are important to me, and all the things that I’ve learned, would have ultimately, I believe, led me down the same path.

          I have certainly been hurt by more than Southern Baptists. It didn’t end when I left the church. People who don’t know me think me evil because I’m not a Christian. The dogma forbidding Christians from being “unequally yoked” has broken my heart, and caused the man I love to leave me. No, it’s not just one denomination. I would never have found a church that would have healed my wounds and reconciled me to the faith.

          Now? I believe in love. I believe in justice. I believe in equality. I believe in doing all that I can to make the world a better place. I believe in selfless service. I believe in the innate goodness of humanity. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I will continue to learn, continue to do what I think is right, and continue to serve.

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