Thursday, October 25, 2007

What the Cee?

So what's up with me? I mean, do I have an agenda? Am I out to insult the sincere Christians in the world?

Of course not. Some of my best friends.... (you know the drill). And while I love the saints, I hate the unexamined life and culture.

So I'm out to expose the crazy-making, not the sincerity.

Because I want to. Because it helps me and some other people who read here. When I was in that deconstructing process myself, I looked everywhere to find someone who'd listen and help me think, reason and clarify.

I found out pretty quickly that Christians can't do it. Once you say something that appears critical, the closest you get is "Well, that may be true of some obscure minority that I've never heard of, but you must have had a very Unique Strange Hurtful Doctrinally Incorrect experience in Christianity because what you express is not at all normative nor correct."

Oh really? You don't recognize any of this in your church?

Well, then some of the nice ones come back and acknowledge that Yes, of course, there are excesses, and you can find extreme people in every group, but the truth is, there are lots more people who have better theology, who are loving and kind, who don't do the weird things you cite on your blog, who see faith as mysterious, who act generously, and so on... You overstate the case, they say.

That line of reasoning reminds me of arguing with my husband. You know how you get frustrated and say, "You never take the garbage downstairs after you take it out of the can." And then he's all, "That's not true. I take it out sometimes." But like, the point wasn't the frequency of his taking it out. It was the fact that today and enough times previous he hadn't and now you feel all up in his grill about it and want him to get just how irritating it is so you say "never" to get his attention, but that diverts it to a semantic argument until one of you attacks the other with a pillow and wrestles him onto the bed for a make-out session... Oh wait. TMI? Sorry.

Anyway, the point being... the emphasis in "overstating" or in what I consider "isolating" a behavior is to draw specific undiluted attention to the issue. Why would that be helpful? Why is it helpful for your bank to pay undiluted attention to each deposit or withdrawal on your account? Do you really want them to get it right "mostly" and to be generous to themselves as they process your experience of your bank statement?

H-e-double hockey stix no!

And while Christians are human beings with flaws (hopefully your bank is a machine without them), they are guided by what is called Absolute Truth. I'm looking at the damaging impact of that overarching belief on flawed human beings (not the good that that belief does) and expressing it here. That's the focus. That's the agenda.

I isolate behaviors because they affect (on balance) how everyone feels about Christians (all of them, regardless of what brand they are because the general population doesn't make the nit-picky distinctions between varieties that Christians make). Most Americans get a general impression and that impression is based on real, concrete, frequent applications of Christian identity to issues of faith, salvation, community, moral posturing, and (some would say, regrettably) politics.

So I bring that stuff here. But not every day.

I also like writing about postmodern theologies, feminism, black theology, Bonhoeffer, and the Jesus Seminar. Those interest me even more, though I don't write about them as often. But it appears by sheer number of posts that besides my fan-girl enthusiasms for Los Angeles, Tiger Woods in his red Nike underarmour, the Bengals when they win (which this season is like never) and the obviously clever, original comments of my children, deconstructing Christianity takes up the bulk of my posts.

But it seems like you have an ax to grind because you can't stop talking about it.

Well, yeah! I do. I might have to talk about it forever. Because if the only people who have anything to say about what it's like to leave that brand of faith stop talking, there is nowhere for those who are in that deconstruction process to go. They need writers like me. I need bloggers like them. And those are the people who like to read here (at least it seems like it; they never complain).

Are my experiences representative of evangelical Christianity? Of course, they are. I've got the resume to back it up. Are they the sum total of Christianity? Of course they aren't. But I'm not writing to be balanced or to describe the whole of Christianity. I went to graduate school to learn how to do that and it worked.

And as I thought about it all in the shower while shaving my legs, I realized that what I like? What really makes me happy? creating a space for people who need to talk about their evolving disenchantment with Christianity.

It's a singular, startling, mostly liberating, sometimes painful, relationally isolating experience. Blogs and forums help.

If you're looking for balance or someone to find the jewels in the midst of the manure, go read someone else's blog.

For those who enjoy my writing, thank you. It's really gratifying to read your deeply thoughtful comments that contribute to me and the others who read and post here. And all of it's a lot of fun.


julieunplugged said...

P.S. Another iteration on how different my experiences must have been from the norm is that I was deeply hurt and suffered lots of pain in the communities of which I was a part. I don't know where that comes from because I have never shared about painful hurt that I know of on this blog. I did lose business when I openly admitted that I had lost faith.

But during the years I was an evangelical? Are you kidding? I LOVED it. I had great experiences. I always felt at the center of the most important work going on on the planet. I had good friends, I liked the atmosphere of the groups I was a part of.

So I just wanted to say: I haven't had unusual suffering at the hands of Christians. The only "slings and arrows" have come from leaving the faith and being misunderstood and criticized. Not while I was a missionary, not while I was in church.

Ampersand said...

Yeah, I'm SO one of those recovering people. I have a blog post brewing on a very related topic, all inspired by Dumbledore and the ensuing commentary here on your blog. It does help to process, really.

It also helps me to read someone who has the theological stones to match her evangelical experience. Not only can you call out the weird stuff, you can also remind us that not all Christian thinking is evangelical.

I heart you and your writing. And I'm pretty sure someday we will disagree on something. Oh, maybe we have and you just haven't told me. :)

Dave said...

Wow, Julie's in Full Effect! This is great, peel-off-the-paint stuff. Luv how you start off the comments section yourself - just can't wait to get the ball rollin'! If this is Julie Unplugged, what is it like when you crank up the amps?!? :o)

All in all, a realistic, candid and appropriate response to the pushback efforts to quarantine the potential disruption that your ideas might cause in some circles if allowed to fully sink in.

Steve said...

You rock.

Ok. 1. I hope you get that I, for one, own up to all the nuttiness in church.

B. I hope I do ok with criticism. Ok, not so well about my hairline. But otherwise, mostly ok.

3. We have fights like you and John....very funny.

D. I recently heard a story about an academic agnostic chatting with a pastor at a party. The academic says to the pastor, "Your product is great, but your advertising and delivery system sucks".

I agree.

I appreciate you.

carrie said...

"If you're looking for balance or someone to find the jewels in the midst of the manure, go read someone else's blog."

Thanks for this honest statement. Yes, I want balance. I want fairness. I don't want to read just one side of the story no matter what it's about. Interestingly enough, Julie, you're one of the people who opened my eyes. You have been such a mentor in prodding me to see more than one side, more than one explanation, and more than one experience.

On one level I understand what you are getting at with this post. I really do. There needs to be safe places for people to deconstruct their experiences without always being reminded constantly that "it's not all like that."

On the other hand, I want to find the jewels because they are also the truth. And I have a hard time not pointing out the jewels when something so important to me is being examined (and found to be a pile of manure).

So I think I get it. You want to create a safe place for those deconstructing their faith without comment from people like me. ;-) So I'll check back from time to time, but, per your suggestion, I'll take your blog off my google reader.

See you at Brave Writer or 365. Peace.

julieunplugged said...

Thanks for your reply Carrie. I think balance often comes in reading multiple viewpoints, more than trying to have it yourself all the time. I value other viewpoints, read them regularly, participate in places like Jesus Creed where my views are not the majority and are suspect in some cases.

Each space represents a writer. I love all who post here and visit and comment. All I wanted to do in this blog was clarify what this blog is doing (since I've been asked).

I do value other expressions of faith. I just am not in the business of writing about them all.

Thanks for your contributions over the years. And if or when you do drop by, then terrific. Otherwise, peace to you too.

Elleann said...

Hey Julie

Coming from an evangelical background myself, and not one that abused or mistreated me either, one of the hardest parts of this whole deconversion experience was wrestling with the fact that God (as I had understood him til then) was so central to my identity and to my perception of the meaning of life that even the thought of him not being Real (ie not being who I had always believed him to be)was almost impossibly hard to wrap my head around). So much fear and guilt and despair and emptiness ... all tied up inside the feeling that to get 'this' wrong would have eternal consequences.

Throughout this time, there was nobody in my RL with whom I could talk things through, which is exactly why your blog has been such a good place for me to visit. I found here someone who could articulate much of what was going on inside my head, which then allowed me to further unpack it for myself. And a big plus was that your writings were not laced with the kind of hate, mockery and loathing that so many ex-christian sites carry.

I find balance by reading here AND by reading elsewhere - and then 'balancing' what I read in my own head, which is the place it really counts. So I number myself amongst those who LOVE having a place to talk about the pain and fear and everything else associated with losing something that has been so central to our lives. Not because you have all the answers, but because you're like me and you've been there too.

Drew said...

We are probably in a very similar space. I find that much in evangelicalism is a struggle between what is existentially pragmatic and that which is the pristine state of the dogma that the perspective espouses. I simply became exhausted by trying to uphold a set of dogmatic propositions that Paul is pretty clear about telling the folks in Rome will lead to their failure.

When reality becomes exhausting because you are focused on yourself and your status before God, there is something inherently wrong with what you are trying to do. Why is it wrong? If you are so focused on your own status, you cannot possibly love your neighbor or truly love justice in a world where that love of neighbor and justice is always seemingly in peril.

What really makes my fellow Christians cringe is when I argue that you do not necessarily some special revelation of God in order to love your neighbor or to love justice. This is made quite evident by so many of those who claim to have received such a revelation and hunker down even more dramatically into isolated communities that continue to buttress personal piety at the expense of that very love of neighbor and justice itself.

So can one be both pragmatic, existentialist, and Christian? That's what I am trying to figure out since being pragmatic seems so much more valuable to humankind than any religious identification.

Lacey said...

i resonated with your statement about being a disenchanted christian. (FYI, i found your blog through scot mcknight's.)i am a 23 year-old, spent my time in undergrad getting a Christian Studies degree at a SBC school, planned for a life in ministry... and after a handful of internships and the beginning of heavy deconstructing, i decided to stop heading down that path. its been a hard year but its encouraging to know others are paving the way. thanks for your words.

r. michael said...


Coming upon your blog in the midst of my own deconstruction was a god-send. I thought I was losing my mind...and then I found others like you that had already lost theirs....and it was OK;<) Seriously, I love the discussion here and learn a lot from folks like you who are a lot farther down the road than me in the process.

Still I feel the struggle of living in two worlds...not feeling like I really belong in either so (for me) this blog connects the dots.

I appreciate Carrie's point about balance though, however I think probably most of your readers have a grasp of the other viewpoints of some of the statements that you I take them for what they observation and a conclusion based upon the observation.

Keep up the writing! It has meant a lot to me personally.

Elleann said...

r michael, I like what you said about living between two worlds. That is exactly what it's like for me too.

My deconstruction is still a work-in-progress, so I haven't yet 'come out' as an ex-anything ... except maybe as an ex-evangelical ... and most of my closest family and friends don't yet know the full extent of how this has affected me.

One thing that has been liberating to me - and maybe this isn't an issue for anyone else, but where else can I say it except here?! - and that is that I used to get SO ANGRY with God - angry that he made me the way I was, angry that he was 'allowing' me to go through hard stuff for his own inexplicable purposes - oh, I was angry about so many things. It was exhausting, all that anger, and so utterly fruitless, because every time it happened, I just knew it was useless - God never responded to my tears and pain but they had to come out somewhere, somehow ... and God was the one who was supposed to know me the best and love me the most ... so I took it to him.

Well, I don't do that anymore. I'm taking responsibility for things in my life that need to be changed, and trying to accept the things that cannot be changed - don't like them any better, but no more raging at God about them!

It's been SO freeing. And as it's a work-in-progress, I'm looking forward to seeing where it all ends up. (And sorry for being so long-winded, this should probably have been a blog post! :-)

julieunplugged said...

Between two worlds is the perfect description of the experience.

I still live between them. My daughter (11) just returned from attending the Junior High Fall Weekend from our previous church. She attends every week. I am a teacher in our homeschool co-op which meets at this same church. The families in my business are largely evangelical Christians. My family (extended) is evangelical Christian.

There is no way that simply by leaving the beliefs behind, I'm somehow beyond the old culture, worldview or community. I'm still right in the middle of it. That's why I'm even sometimes still frustrated.

The examples in my post about Christian culture are all current and all impact actual family members and close friends. These are not randomly drawn. It's why I think I'm provoked to keep processing.

I don't process what is right about these groups since the things that are "right" don't alienate or harm. For instance, my daughter's creative writing assignment from co-op this week is to write about ways she overcomes evil with good or shines her light in darkness. A little over the head of an 11 year old, but certainly a topic I consider valuable and a life attitude I endorse!

So yes, between two worlds. Absolutely.

r. michael said...

"The examples in my post about Christian culture are all current and all impact actual family members and close friends."

This really hits home for me...last night had a "session" with my wife who is afraid of where I am going spiritually....many tears and words. I told her that I heard a song by Patty Griffin that exactly described what I felt about my life at this point...

"your out there walkin' down that highway...
and all of the signs got blow away...
sometimes you wonder if your walkin' in the wrong direction"

which pretty much describes this experience for me...but I also feel like I don't have a choice to go back to where I was either.

Still, I can't describe myself as a "non-believer" but when it comes to evangelicalism, I think I have put most of the nails in that coffin...

I must have been in a "song" mood last nite because I also told her that I felt like I could honestly quote many of the lines from the U2 song "still haven't found what I'm looking for" and this would also be true of me at this point.

sorry for emoting so much on the blog today...but it is still very fresh for me:<{

julieunplugged said...

r. michael, you're not the only one. I got an email yesterday with a similar question. I'm working on a post about falling away and spouses and will get it up tomorrow, I hope. :)

carrie said...

Julie- Thank you for the response to my comment. I hope you know I believe you are interested in all viewpoints.

Your post was helpful in clarifying what you want to provide here. That, in turn, helps me figure out how I should, or shouldn't, participate based on your stated goals.

I'll be around. I love looking at your family pictures. ;-)

julieunplugged said...

:) Carrie. You mean a lot to me. I'm glad you'll be around.