How to Reject Your Faith

I was hoping if you could advise in a few matters.

I have suffered for years due to not being able to let go of faith completely previously as it clashes with my sexuality.

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 it 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 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 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. I once 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, but in theology, he is brilliant. 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 beautiful 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 understand the severity of the divide between Baptists and Catholics. 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, as doing so risks literalizing the religion into something old, recorded, and potentially problematic. They instead think of faith as a living, current thing that can be divorced from history. 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 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 are dangerous people.

My study into Catholicism was discouraged and eventually stopped when I tried to purchase some Catholic books at the Christian bookstore my parents ran for a few years as a side business. It’s unwise to tell a smart pre-teen no. After that, I only 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 likely 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 significant. 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. In other words, 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 disconnected 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 believers from several Baptist 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 to me 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. There, you can see a beautiful grassy valley stretching for miles and distant smoke rising from village fires. While we were up there, he told me to stand on his shoes. Holding him in the tall grass, we danced.

The day my family got home, my dad walked in my room and confronted me: “I think you’re still dealing with this gay problem.” I don’t need to tell you the rest 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 religious mindset. I see the world with narrative and imbibe everything with dark portents. I didn’t think my desires were sinful or that God disapproved of them — I was convinced my parents were wrong on that 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 silly when explaining it, because parts of it sounded ridiculous, but I also found its core ideas very beautiful. But thinking something is beautiful and believing in it is not the same thing. I would later realize that I think cathedrals and Jewish folk songs are beautiful, but that’s not faith.

Still, I had a hot thing for the horned god. He is a lesser god, a lower entity in Wicca, which is generally considered an earth-based Goddess faith. In the cosmic wheel of the year, she births him, breeds him, kills him, and makes him again. I liked that because I wanted men (and women) to hurt and breed me and didn’t have the language of BDSM yet to say so. The masculine god of Wicca was the spirit of the hunt, and I was hunting — for sex, for freedom, and for my own identity. His horns represented masculinity, since many male animals are horned, but his masculinity was a non-toxic, non-dominant version that opposed the patriarchy of male-dominated, Abrahamic faiths. As an idea, I felt the horned god could be useful in the world.

But 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 because I’m not a true atheist.

I was in a student computer lab reading news one day when 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 had created a dark situation for Chinese girls — their lives were, to some extent and until a certain age, disposable. The author sited 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. Was God so cruel?

The obvious answer to that question came from asking other 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 early days of Christianity. Epicurus (a Greek philosopher who founded a lovely 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 while we lived there (and every mission team has continued this tradition since we left), we drove to a local bush village at night and showed a film about the life of Christ in a local language, projected on a white sheet hung on the side of a building. After the film ended, a pastor invited anyone who wanted to be saved to come forward.

Of course, 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. Every weekend for two years, people came forward and we prayed with them, even I prayed with them. Yet after nights of prayer, I would walk through my parents’ hospital and see bodies, barely alive, covered in flies, and babies, tiny bones wrapped in skin, bathed in filthy water. They begged God for two years to save them — and God, the one who loved them, did nothing.

Once the problem of suffering (also called the problem of evil) became clear, the rest fell quickly. Christianity, Wicca, spirits, prayer, morality — all of it broke. Shortly after that, I became HIV-positive at age 21, and when that happened I had two options: I could look at the stars and see nothing but 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 the label 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 unimaginably cruel. If I ever meet him, I’ll pay 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, I can destroy him. The idea of God has survived for thousands of years thanks to storytellers like me — bards, apostles, fablelists. We can kill him.

I’m not an atheist. I’m the Devil.

My sexuality blossomed after that — as yours will when you realize how easily you can destroy your past beliefs. 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.

I still have a thing for the horned god. I keep him as an archetype embodying my values: do no harm, respect nature, and hunt for what you want. He is a woods spirit, a Pan — he can’t be invoked, appeased, or prayed to. I celebrate him with my own rituals — group sex, fisting. If you want to give this religion a name, call it hedonism.

Do you know why the Devil has horns? From the early-Christian era to the moderns, most Western art depicted Christian themes. But when artists like Bosch, Dürer, and Goltzius (and those are just the Germans) were tasked with depicting the Devil, they found the Bible offered few and irregular descriptors (Satan is a seven-headed dragon at one point and a beautiful angel at another). So the artists took inspiration from pagan gods, which worked because the church weaponized art to attack its competition. Many pagan deities have horns (Hathor, Ba’al, Moloch, Pan). As Christians reappropriated European pagan traditions (Christmas trees, wreaths), they successfully linked pagan gods with the Devil, and today most people think Satan is a red man with horns.

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 true and they are the only things you should trust. You are as natural as the stars and mountains. You are supposed to be here.

Those who say anything different are truly evil. That’s how evil works. Look at history (Adolph Hitler, Mao Zedong). Be wary of those who claim righteousness at the expense of others, who believe they are “saved” while others are “lost.”

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 unspeakable 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, your talisman. 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 hurt 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 yourself — a happy gay man with great sex and fulfilling relationships — in your heart. You have to believe in this dream and be willing to burn down everything in your life to let it live. You have to grow your horns.

Love, Beastly 

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3 Comments

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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