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I have suffered for years due to not being able to let go of faith completely previously as it clashes with my sexuality.
I was hoping if you could advise on a few matters.
Even after letting go, the fear, guilt, and trauma still prevent me from seeking a fulfilling relationship. There’s always a fear of judgment or hellfire or what I want is wrong
Seeking from your experience. How do we let go of former beliefs which harm us and cope with the impact they had on us and our lives? To no longer believe and to convince ourselves that what they teach is not true or wrong.
To be free and let go of the fear, anger, and guilt. How do we move on?
I feel your message. Many gay men have similar experiences in religion — specifically Christianity, which I’m assuming is the faith that you say clashes with your sexuality.
Some religious queer people debate that clash and say the historic abuse of LGBTQ+ people by Christians is the result of misguided church policy, not divine mandate. They tell us “the Bible actually says nothing about homosexuality” and other things like that.
Theirs is little more than a semantic argument. On a practical level, we’re being asked to distinguish between cruelty enacted by people and cruelty enacted by people on God’s orders. Either way, it’s still cruelty.
I grew up in the Southern Baptist church and loved it. From a young age, I wanted to be a pastor. Even as a child, I was interested in the minutia of Christianity. My lifelong interest in philosophy started with asking questions about the nature of God. When I was about twelve, I had a long discussion with Dad about the spiritual world — what role did it play in ours? How could I see its influence?
My father is a surgeon and an incredibly brilliant man. His mind, like mine, is powerful and ferocious. He urged me to think deeply. We were close and shared a seriousness about religion that my mother and sister did not, and that made me feel like we were united in a common mission.
In middle school, I started asking questions about Catholicism, and this was the first time my questions were discouraged. I thought Catholics were mysterious and their churches beautiful — that’s all. I didn’t want to become Catholic. I did not fully understand the severity of the divide between Baptists and Catholics at the time, of course. I just knew words like “doctrine” and “liturgy” toed a precarious line at my Baptist church.
The history of Christianity is not discussed by Baptists. Doing so risks making the religion a literal thing, something old, recorded, and problematic. They instead prefer to think of faith as a living, current thing that can be divorced from its history. They believe belief is a personal relationship with God that bypasses even the Bible. The danger with this mentality, of course, is that it amps up the credibility of one’s subjective bias and delusions. Baptists readily accept that God might reveal his will to someone in such a way that contradicts centuries of scripture. In fact, there is a general distrust of sacred text and heavier reliance on one’s personal perception of God. For this reason, Baptist Christianity is shockingly radical, politicized, and notoriously anti-gay.
My study into Catholicism was eventually forcibly stopped when I tried to purchase some Catholic books at the Christian bookstore my parents ran for a few years. It’s unwise to tell a smart pre-teenager no, and I just wanted to know more.
One day my parents bought me a book of illustrated world myths from Barnes & Noble. The front cover featured an illustration of the Greek myth of Prometheus, the fire thief, so they must have assumed it was filled with old Greek mythology — obvious fairy tales. But when I got home, I realized it also contained Christian myths — “Noah and the Ark,” “Jonah and the Whale,” and so on. The book was one of the most powerful things to drop into my life. Its illustrations were made to entertain kids, but its implications were powerful. By holding Bible stories up alongside “Theseus and the Minotaur,” it either made stories I was supposed to believe in look flimsier or made the story of Odin carving the first humans out of driftwood appear more plausible. It either enforced doubt or asserted the validity of other faiths. For me, it did the latter.
I noticed there were similarities between myths. There were, for example, multiple “great flood” myths, suggesting a great flood may have actually happened. As early as twelve years old, I came to a logical idea: if various cultures had common myths, what if Christianity was one interpretation of a more universal truth? And what if there was a better one?
As a child, I spent several years in Zambia because my parents were medical missionaries there. I was unaware of the scope of their work until they sat me and my sister down one day and explained that they had founded an orphanage and were building a school. “You now have 60 brothers and sisters in Africa,” they said.
We returned to Zambia every few years to work at the orphanage and I became close with the kids. Many of them were my age. One such trip happened in the summer before my junior year of high school. We went there for two weeks to work with a missionary team — an aggregate of church-goers from various Protestant churches in and around Athens, Georgia. One of the guys on the team went to my high school. He was active in his church, but his religiosity seemed like a ruse. I knew he smoked pot and chased girls. I think he wanted an adventure and his parents could afford the trip. I fell in love with him and we spent late nights talking on the sofa in the common room after everyone was asleep.
We left the group to go up the hill near the guest house. While we were up there, he told me to stand on his shoes. Holding him in the tall grass, we danced. He was my first passionate, devastating crush.
The day my family got home, my dad walked into my room and confronted me: “I think you’re still dealing with this gay problem.” I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story because you lived it — the fight, the shouting and crying, how the pain lingers in the body, the shame and terror of it. I’ve written about that night elsewhere, probably too much. It wasn’t the end of my faith but it altered my perspective of God forever. I doubt my parents have ever grasped the irony that their effort to get me back on track with God was the first irreparable crack in my ability to ever be a Christian.
All the same, my default mode is spiritual. I have a natural religious mindset. I see the world with narrative and imbibe everything with portents. I didn’t think my desires were sinful or that God disapproved of them — I was convinced my parents were wrong on that little detail — but I was furious that God had placed me in such a family. I decided to put my faith in him on hold and switched to neopaganism — Wicca and Shamanism (this followed a period of fascination with Native American spiritualities, which were heavily shamanic). In Wicca, I discovered the horned god, a symbolic manifestation of masculine energy — a force that, in neopagan myth, coexists with a more powerful feminine energy, the sacred Mother. Wiccans believe these forces balance the world. I saw this as another plausible interpretation of a universal god truth.
In 2010, I went to college thinking Wicca was for me. I felt a little ridiculous when explaining it because parts of it sounded silly, but I also found its core ideas very beautiful. But thinking something is beautiful and believing in it are not the same thing. I would later realize that I think cathedrals and Jewish folk songs are beautiful, but that’s not the same as faith.
But it didn’t matter, because my religiosity was about to hit a wall. Many atheists have an “a-ha!” moment when they realize they don’t believe in God. I didn’t have that because I’m not a true atheist. I was a student in college, working in a computer lab, when I clicked on a news website. I read a report about female infanticide in China. I don’t remember the details but the report was about the effects of Chinese law mandating one child per couple, which created a dark situation for Chinese girls. Their lives were, to some extent and until a certain age, disposable. The author cited one grotesque example: a taxi driver backed over a five-year-old girl and heard her crying. He decided to back over her again and kill her rather than pay for her medical bills.
That broke me. The image stayed in my head for weeks. Deists of all stripes (Baptists, Catholics, Wiccans) would say her life was brought into being by an all-knowing, all-powerful god who deemed it acceptable for her to be crushed under a taxi wheel five years later. The mind balks at how severely she was robbed of life, how meaningless and impersonal her death was.
Could God be so cruel? The obvious answer to that question came from asking other very logical questions. What about the Holocaust? What about hunger? If we’re born sinful and made by God, isn’t God invariably responsible for sin? If evil exists, mustn’t God be evil? These questions (simple deductive reasoning) have been raised by philosophers since the very early days of Christianity. Epicurus (a Greek philosopher who founded a form of secular hedonism) said it best: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
In Zambia, I saw hundreds of people with AIDS dragging their bodies through the dirt to see a film about Jesus. Nearly once a week, we drove to a local bush village at night and showed a film about the life of Christ in a local language. After the film, a pastor invited anyone who wanted to be saved to come forward. Everyone came. They lived in mud huts and had just seen a movie for the first time. It must have looked like magic. And to be “saved” — healed, spared — is an enticing concept when you’re sick. Yet after nights of feverish prayer, I would walk through my parents’ hospital and see bodies, barely alive, covered in flies, and babies, tiny bones wrapped in skin, being bathed in filthy water. These people begged God for two years to save them — and they beg him still. And the AIDS crisis in Africa goes on. And God, the one who loves them, does nothing.
Once the problem of suffering (also called “the problem of evil” in philosophy textbooks) became clear, everything else fell quickly. Christianity, Wicca, spirits, prayer, morality — all of it broke down. Then I got to the core concepts: truth, self, subjectivity, mind, and language. When you find cracks in God, you find cracks in the entire social order on which world societies are built — because our world is built on religion. Scrapping that, I realized nothing was real. I still believe that most things we think are “true” are actually inventions of language.
A few months after this devastating breakdown of my faith, I became HIV-positive at age 21. When that happened, I had two options: I could look at the stars and see just stars — a Godless, unguided universe — or I could see a God that allowed a plague to kill a generation of gay men. The former lens is “atheism” and that’s what I tell people because it’s easier to explain than the truth.
And the truth is, I despise God. I’ve never been able to fully sever myself from belief. But if God exists, he must be cruel. If I ever meet him, I will him back for everything he’s done to us. And if he’s just a concept that has lingered too long in our collective memory — as I think he is — we can destroy him. We kill ideas all the time.
My sexuality blossomed after that — as yours will when you realize how easily you can destroy the God of your parents, the God of Abraham, and all other Gods. You can smite your past beliefs and immediately strip them of their power. All you have to do is replace them with a new philosophy. Go on a spiritual journey like I did to find what you think is true. My systematic sampling of different religious concepts and my sexual development are the same story — I cannot divorce one from the other — and they led me to hedonism.
Listen, friend: they want you to doubt your desires and feel shame for them, so you must do more than dismiss what they say. You have to create a new set of beliefs that are fully yours. Fight faith with faith. They will call your desires evil, so be evil. They will say your sexuality is the work of evil spirits, so welcome those spirits in with open arms. Your desires are as natural as everything else in nature. You are supposed to be here.
Do not be forgiving in your admonishment of them. You must be ruthless because they are ruthless. They have passed laws outlawing our existence and subjected us to generations of violence. In conservative countries all over the world they continue to kill and incarcerate us.
Your new religion or philosophy — whatever it is — must become your counter-message. Try new ideas and discard ones that don’t work. Doubt anything, believe everything. You don’t have to know where you’re going so long as you go away from the ideas that continue to harm you. I’m not certain those who grow up religious can ever discard the impulse to pray, but we can direct prayer elsewhere.
Keep an idea of your future — a gay man with a great sex life and beautiful relationships — in your heart. You must believe in this dream and be willing to burn down everything in your life to let it live.
Fascinating reading your story. Thank you for sharing it. It’s given me a whole new perspecitive on you. I want to say I admire and respect you and so appreciate your blog. I agree with you entirely regarding the Christian church, but not about God or Jesus. I have all but abandoned church but I cling to my faith in Jesus, whom I speak to on a regular basis. My way of dealing with life is to rethink my faith and question and examine all, especially what I learnt in church. I have come to regard love as being the all-important essence of life and, to me, Jesus is the incarnation of that Love. My views on sin, and sexuality, and hell, and salvation, and probably a host of other things, run very counter to the traditions of “churchianity” and I hold to loving God and loving my neighbour as my guide to how I live.
For me, you don’t have to reject faith but reject toxic teaching. I address it sometimes on my Facebook page under Everett Sanders. I am brought up Christian but I seldom read the Bible and find parts quite boring. Some would say that when I do read the Bible I cherry pick which is probably true. For me, written books are man’s thoughts on God and if God is not dead, I allow Him to direct me in what is truth. My method might be flawed but if the text sounds idiotic, I reject it. I still profess to be a Christian and an ordained minister.
Thank you so much for sharing. You write beautifully and I can feel the power of the horned god in your energy. Blessed be.
I’ve read your blog for a while now and I really like the way you write, This however, felt scary.
I was raise a christian too (Baptist father, Pentecostal mother, both evangelical) and when my sexuality emerged, naturally clashed with faith. Unlike you i never felt confortable in the church, not by lack of interest in the divine, but for being unconfortable with social gatherings and control. After I left church, around age 22, I left the issue alone for more than 10 years. I didn’t know what to think about or how to reconcile being gay and believeng in a faith that condemns gay people. to me the “human bias, not God’s word” seems flawed. How could you know which parts of the bible are true if you pick and choose according to current values? You either accept it as it is or reject the whole of it.
The problem of evil has crushed many believers from all faiths accross the millenia. My BF is part of that group too, and thinks very similar to you in many ways. But for me the idea of rejecting God for that is not appealing.
Lately I’m more into Occultism, in philosophycal sense. I Like kabbalah and many other things that tend to pantheism, the Idea that everything has a divine part, that we’re a part of God. I see Spinoza in this light now and I’ve always found his affirmations frustratingly hard to refute.
I Don’t know if God is Willing or capable of stoping evil. I know He IS. I think we can go back or stay in this world, but whatever happens here is and is not His resposability. It’s ours. We do this to ourselves, wich would mean He does this to Himself. Why? I don’t know. Maybe, like you, and my Boyfriend and sometimes me too, He needs to be hurt… And loved, and all the experiences that life in this plain has to offer.
I don’t believe in the punishing God of the scripture anymore. I think I’m in this world to love my boyfriend, to care for my friends, to learn something from my awful mother and maybe teach her a lesson too.
Here’s the problem. We have to define terms, otherwise people will continuously redefine “god” to fit current trends and updated ways is thinking. (If god is real, he should continue to be real regardless of how we continue to redefine him.) If by “god,” you mean a being that is both an omniscient and omnipotent being — which has been the definition of god for most of human history — then that’s not pantheism. Pantheism, as many philosophers have pointed out, is atheism by another name (if god if “everything” then it’s just as true to say he is nothing). Rejecting God isn’t appealing to anyone — it’s not natural to be irreligious — but when we try to align the god hypothesis with logic, we end up producing meaningless backwards phrases like “whatever happens here is and is not his responsibility” (it logically cannot be both). You’re free to believe in God, but if you believe in a vague, nebulous force that can neither by proven or disproven (pantheism) and who is an indifferent being that just happens to coexist alongside us, you’ve a) redefined god in such a way that absolves you of ever having to prove his existence, which is something a frustrating number of spiritual people do, and b) you can no longer call this thing you believe in “god” as the word is understood. You don’t get to change a word’s meaning to fit an idea you want to be real.
No one lives in a vacuum. You are the result of your culture, your surroundings, your privileges. I simply don’t understand why you don’t connect what your parents did to all your suffering and the suffering in the world. Since Americans and Europeans began opening churches in Africa, gays have been persecuted. It wasn’t God, it was Americans and Europeans. Albeit the colonization of their land, exploitation of their resources, and pollution. You never connected that to your suffering? You are American. Throwing two nuclear bombs over civilians, bombing southeast Asia for ages, Yugoslavia, Central America, killing Iraqis for oil, being the worst polluters on earth, killing all living mammals, etc, Do you really need a fantasy imaginary devil? You look for God to justify what humans do? Why do you look for the devil when it’s all around you? You can try all the drugs in the world, all the kinks, and all the gods to cover the source of pain, a very real, human source. That is the ultimate God, the right to open churches, exploit, colonize, bomb, kill, and pollute. That’s why a God and all these fantasies are needed. The alternative would be to demand change, in your own country. Be ruthless, demand change, get out, and help reduce the pain and hatred your church, your country, and your parents sowed.