Leaving the evangelical world felt more like I was slowly drowning while everyone around me did everything they could to keep me from leaving. It was deliberate, systematic, and it left me wondering why I ever joined the evangelical church in the first place. If these people truly loved me as they said they did, why did they not listen to me? Why didn't they want to hear my doubts, support me in my struggle as I found most of my beliefs to be contrary to the Bible? The questions haunted me as I tried to find a way to reconcile the obvious conflict between people's words and their actions. Slowly it began to dawn to me that the only thing that mattered were my beliefs - but only as long as they aligned with everyone else's beliefs. It was mind-control, pure and simple. And that realization opened a door with a huge flashing neon-red EXIT sign above it. But to get to that door, I had to fight everyone around me, and only those who have had to engage in that fight know what it feels like.
Everyone hides somewhat to protect themselves, but evangelicals hide behind the thin veneer of godliness. They say a lot of nice things, but as soon as you question their beliefs, the niceness turns to ugliness. Suddenly you're the enemy, a real Jezebel who is out to kill all the prophets. You're no longer a child of God. How could you be? You don't believe the right things. You question, and questioning is bad, witchcraft kind of bad. It makes you an apostate, a heretic, and heretics have no place in the house of God. And so they circle their wagons around you and shoot you with words that are designed to shame, to inflict pain. The goal is to save your soul by mortifying your mind. The question is, of course, who would want to be saved in that way? They say they'll pray for you. They love you, they say. But what kind of love demands absolute obedience to a belief? A belief isn't a fact, or even an idea. A belief is something that is designed to help the mind evade the truth. Children are taught to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. It makes giving presents at Christmas easier for the parents and the pain of having a tooth yanked out more manageable. If it was Santa who brought the presents, then there will no nagging about more toys after Christmas is over. Santa comes, after all, only once a year. Similarly, Evangelicals insist you must believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, the existence of hell, and a hoard of others things, because if you don't, they can't control you.
It's all about control.
Once you've pealed all the layers of nice sounding cliches and memes off the surface, you come face to face with the ugly reality of the evangelical world - control. If they can control you, you will do whatever is asked of you. You will give your time and your money to build the evangelical empire without giving it much thought. "It's for the Lord" is what you hear, but God doesn't need a fancy church, or a new jet, or a sound system that shames the best rock concert. Greed is a sin, they say, but it's a sin only for the sheep. The shepherds need their lavish lifestyle. And so they insist you must believe everything you've told. Questions become anathema, as questions pierce through the illusion of unity and reveal the truth.
But it's not only about money. It's also about power. To have power, you must have authority and to have authority you must have people who obey you. Obedience is one of the cardinal beliefs of the evangelical world, the one no one is allowed to question. Children are taught to obey their parents, wives are taught to obey their husbands, church goers are taught to obey their elders. To question authority is to question God. And God cannot be questioned, because God is above us and wields absolute authority over us. This begs, of course, the question, if God has authority over everyone, why are some humans placed in authority above other humans? "To keep order," is the regular answer. It's so very Roman, but let's ignore that for a moment. Order is important; no one likes chaos. But is authority the best way to create order? Every rebellion is against authority. No one rebels against a person who doesn't force you to do something you don't want. No one starts a war against a peaceful neighbor - unless they want what the neighbor has. And so we find that we're once again staring at money.
Money is an idol according to the Bible. And this particular idol has many worshipers. They say they worship the God who created all things, but they want what Money can give them. Money gives power, and power gives us what we want - servants who make our lives pleasurable. It boosts the ego until it's so inflated that it can no longer see the fellow human as human. The Bible rants and raves against this mindset, but the evangelical mind can no longer see it. It can only see what the blind allegiance to a system designed to exploit allows it to see - until something causes the mind to rebel, to ask the forbidden questions.
For me the primary question was why I, as a woman, was designed by God to spend my days in the boredom of homemaking. If God had given me a brain, why wasn't I allowed to use it? Why was a designed to do monotonous housework knowing fully well my mind was capable of deciphering complex philosophical questions without much effort. It made no sense. And so I began to question the whole paradigm, and soon enough the whole house of cards came tumbling down as if flicked by an invisible finger. I saw with clarity what lay behind all the "Praise God!" exclamations, and it wasn't God. God was nowhere to be found in the entire system, other than as a prop to be used to guilt people to stay. The ugliness shocked, but it also made me mad. Or perhaps I felt both emotions at the same time. It doesn't really matter. My anger woke me up from my mental hibernation, and I decided to leave, fighting my way through the inevitable "You can't leave God!" "You need to repent!" "If your faith is in God, you'll forgive!"
Forgive what? Or, I should say, forgive whom? If I have to forgive, shouldn't those who have done me wrong repent and change? No one can forgive blatant mind-control while remaining in its vicinity. The only way to forgive is to leave.
And so I did.
Reconstructing one's life after deconstruction is painful and it is also lonely. But in the end I had to admit that I was lonely in the evangelical world too, that is, once I began to ask questions. I still miss being part of a tight-knit community, but I don't miss the hurtful words, or the manipulation, or the endless messages from "concerned" friends whose only aim was to shame me into compliance. "Who needs enemies with friends like that?" is another cliche, but it's a painful reality for all the people who have ever had to face the ire of the evangelical world. I may never find another community I can be part of, but I will rather stay in my own private island as long as I can do so with integrity. Control isn't love, and love doesn't seek to control. The Bible says it, and I believe it.