Learning to trust myself: intellectual honesty, appealing to authority, & deconverting from Christianity.

Learning to trust myself: intellectual honesty, appealing to authority, & deconverting from Christianity.

“I only got a 1400-some­thing the first time I took the SATs,” he said, his voice drip­ping with dis­dain for this clear intel­lec­tu­al fail­ing.

A group of us were loung­ing around in the lob­by of one of the main build­ings at our church camp, talk­ing about our rel­a­tive­ly recent for­ays into col­lege and how we end­ed up where we were. I was both the only girl in the group, and the only per­son major­ing in some­thing not con­sid­ered impres­sive. To hear them talk about it, though, it was because I chose art, not that I couldn’t real­ly do much of any­thing else.

Same here,” anoth­er of our friends replied, shak­ing his head with a self-dep­re­cat­ing smile on his face. “I think it may have even been a 1300-some­thing.” We all winced at his admit­ted buf­foon­ery.

What they didn’t know is that I joined them in their laugh­ter to hide my shock at their braini­a­cal prowess and hope­ful­ly deflect any atten­tion that might reveal my idiocy…only to freeze when the first guy turned to me with a twin­kle in his eye and asked, “So, Dani, what was your SAT score?”

My face grew red and I chuck­led ner­vous­ly. “Oh! Uhm…I don’t…I don’t want to talk about it…”

Oh, come on!” he prod­ded, turn­ing to face me in his earnest­ness. “It can’t be that bad! You’re real­ly smart!”

My blush grew deep­er at the com­pli­ment (he was a major crush at the time, okay?) and also at the pan­ic swelling in my chest. If he thinks that a 1400-some­thing is pathet­ic, and he thinks I’m super smart, there is no way in hell I’m telling him I was hap­py with my 1130.

People’s opin­ions of me have always made or bro­ken my inter­nal world, where I spend most of my time any­way (hel­lo, INFJ). It’s some­thing I’ve been active­ly work­ing to change the past few years, but it’s dif­fi­cult. It’s always been a fear of mine that I’m not real­ly all that bright, that my think­ing skills (or “dis­cern­ment” as my Chris­t­ian upbring­ing might describe it) are severe­ly lack­ing, and that some­day peo­ple will find out that I’m real­ly below aver­age and sud­den­ly I’ll be con­sid­ered a stu­pid, sense­less girl to brush aside as entire­ly unre­li­able or unim­por­tant. I cher­ish all the times men­tors and peers have told me how thought­ful I am, how smart I am, how deep-think­ing and med­i­ta­tive and dis­cern­ing and intu­itive I am. I have spent many years using those com­pli­ments to fight off my inner abuser who tells me that a graph­ic design­er who grew up as a con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian and doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree can’t pos­si­bly under­stand or con­tribute to the world in any sort of mean­ing­ful way and must always defer to experts and author­i­ties out­side of her own self.

Recent­ly, I stum­bled across the amaz­ing blog of for­mer­ly-con­ser­v­a­tive-Chris­t­ian-but-cur­rent­ly-athe­ist-activist-philoso­pher Dan Fincke. I’ve been absolute­ly delight­ed to find his writ­ing and have been tak­ing every oppor­tu­ni­ty to find qui­et moments in which to immerse myself in his decon­ver­sion sto­ry and his phi­los­o­phy of life. It’s been excit­ing, free­ing, val­i­dat­ing — it’s pro­vid­ed me with a sense of kin­ship that I haven’t felt for quite some time.

After find­ing his blog, I imme­di­ate­ly fol­lowed him on Twit­ter & Face­book, and he (being a friend­ly guy) asked me how I decon­vert­ed.

I was imme­di­ate­ly strick­en, to be hon­est. Dan is a hel­la smart per­son. He knows what he thinks about things and is able to artic­u­late those thoughts intel­li­gent­ly and con­vinc­ing­ly. And if you read the com­ments he gets on his pieces…every time I try to wade into the com­ment stream, I find myself quick­ly in over my head, if I wasn’t already over my head through­out his post.

Through no fault of Dan’s at all, his ques­tion brought up all my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being smart enough. Sud­den­ly, I’m back in that lob­by on that camp­ground, and instead of my friend ask­ing me my SAT scores, the agnos­tic athe­ist com­mu­ni­ty is ask­ing me for my street cred.

Which I know is com­plete­ly ridicu­lous (and not an accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion at all of the ques­tion Dan asked of me, nor of his inten­tion in ask­ing). Anx­i­ety is a bitch and it takes all my worst fears and puts the faces of peo­ple I deeply admire and from whom I des­per­ate­ly crave approval and voic­es my fears through their dis­tort­ed mouths in my brain, and it sucks.

The rea­son I don’t have a con­crete answer to how I decon­vert­ed is that I feel like I still am decon­vert­ing, that it’s a process I’ll go through for many years. But the turn­ing point (I wouldn’t say the start­ing point) is that I couldn’t man­u­fac­ture belief any­more, despite spend­ing my whole life up until that point ful­ly ded­i­cat­ed to Christ. I had to let it go in order to pre­serve my intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty.

But then jerk­brain jumps in and tells me that I’m nei­ther a philoso­pher not a sci­en­tist. That I can’t defend my lack of belief in the Chris­t­ian God, let alone my lack of belief in any god. That I can’t pos­si­bly think and parse out for myself what to believe. There’s a tiny bit of truth there, in that I don’t have the words, the cor­rect terms — I just have feel­ings, intu­itions. Things that can’t pos­si­bly hold up in the court­room of my abu­sive brain, nor do I feel like they’re suf­fi­cient answers for peo­ple from whom I crave accep­tance.

I think both of these things are in part a by-prod­uct of being raised in Chris­tian­i­ty, how­ev­er. This com­pul­sive need to sec­ond-guess every­thing about myself, this insis­tent belief that I have to be able to explain every deci­sion and belief I hold, and that I require an author­i­ty fig­ure of some kind to bless my con­clu­sions and my life itself.

I was taught that I was untrust­wor­thy and eas­i­ly deceived, by nature of hav­ing a heart and being a woman, so is it any won­der that I con­stant­ly sec­ond-guess myself? I always had to “be ready to give an account” of my beliefs. One thing the Ply­mouth Brethren are very insis­tent about is that Chris­tians ought to be able to back up their entire lives with Scrip­ture (plus the lead­ing of the Holy Spir­it that appar­ent­ly can nev­er con­tra­dict their inter­pre­ta­tion of Scrip­ture or the lead­ing of the elders of the assem­bly). If I was able to do and say and believe the right things and explain why using the Bible and assem­bly prece­dent, then I would be pleas­ing to God and to the spir­i­tu­al author­i­ties He sup­pos­ed­ly placed in my life. So is it any won­der that I des­per­ate­ly seek to jus­ti­fy my life and beliefs through the opin­ions of assumed author­i­ty fig­ures for their express approval of my very being?

That entire way of liv­ing (and arguably all man­i­fes­ta­tions of reli­gion) by its very nature is noth­ing more than an appeal to author­i­ty. An appeal to an author­i­ty that, I dis­cov­ered last sum­mer, only holds as much pow­er as an “unbeliever’s” lack of belief grants it.

There’s so much uncer­tain­ty here, out­side of reli­gious belief. Where I used to be able to com­fort myself with “be still and know that [He] is God,” there is now no such com­fort. (If I believed that par­tic­u­lar god exist­ed, I wouldn’t find much com­fort in the thought any­more any­way.) Just as I was ashamed of my SAT score sit­ting in that lob­by with my super-smart friends, I’m often ashamed by how much I don’t know about the world I live in and how I want to inter­act with it.

But.

I’m learn­ing to trust myself.

I don’t have all the answers. (I’m not sure there are answers to be had, hon­est­ly.) I can’t ade­quate­ly explain why I no longer have faith, and in some instance I can’t even explain what exact­ly I believe now. But that’s okay. I’m learn­ing that I don’t need anyone’s per­mis­sion or bless­ing in my life for my beliefs, and that it’s okay to con­tin­ue to learn and form beliefs. Instead, in the words of a Twit­ter friend, my mantra can now be, “Be calm, and dis­cov­er that you are strong.”

Posted in Fat Girl,