Making Sense of My Stage-5 Post

WARNING: This post is long. Over 5,000 words. It’s a braindump of something that’s been stewing in me for over 4 years.

Christchurch earthquake damage
The bridge on Spencerville Road crossing the Lower Styx river, in the aftermath of a 2010 earthquake in Canterbury (including Christchurch City) NZ. Photo: Martin Luff

“I’m warning you, if you proceed to Stage 5, and you’re not ready to be ostracized from the relationship—the larger relationship, perhaps the family, the job, the social group—then you’re not ready for Stage 5.” (Ross Rosenberg, “On Becoming a Psychological Orphan: When Losing Your Family Is Good, But Hurts,” 7:29.)

Ross Rosenberg is an author and psychotherapist who specializes in codependency, narcissism, and trauma. He’s developed a 10-stage Self-Love Recoveryâ„¢ treatment program for victims of narcissistic abuse. Stage 5 is the climactic act in the story, in which the victim sets boundaries with their abuser, sometimes for the first time in their life.

This never goes well.

But it is always necessary to cross that mountain in order to reach the fertile plains on the other side.

No, it’s not a mountain. It’s an earthquake.

And that’s how it was for me, too.

And then there’s the rebuilding afterward.

The full quote begins at 4:39 into the video:

Narcissists are infused with shame [but] they’re unable to experience it, remember it, acknowledge it, process it, and talk about it. So anything that triggers them—setting a boundary—what happens is, they experience the shame in the shape of a narcissistic injury. And so instead of feeling like they’re a piece of crap, they’re a failure, they’re a bad person, they project that shame message onto the person who is trying to set a boundary, trying to correct them, or trying to keep them from being hurt.

And the reason I say this to you is that when you set a boundary to a narcissist and say, ‘I’m no longer going to let you talk to me that way. I’m no longer going to let you steal from me. I’m no longer going to let you manipulate other people to hurt me. I’m no longer going to let you push me around…’ whatever is that boundary that you’re going to set with your pathological narcissist, you should expect a projection of rage, anger, and the narcissist attacking you [and] the relationship will break apart into a bloody mess…

I’m warning you, if you proceed to Stage 5, and you’re not ready to be ostracized from the relationship—the larger relationship, perhaps the family, the job, the social group—then you’re not ready for Stage 5.

Because once you get to the other end of Stage 5 and you’ve lost 75% of your loved ones and you move to Stage 6, where you’re pretty much trying to survey the damage, survey the earthquake, of Stage 5, and…acclimate to this new world of yours— If you’re going to get to Stage 6, you have to be prepared by understanding that there will be few relationships left for you with [the] pathological narcissist. You will experience becoming a psychological orphan.

This mirrors so closely my experience extracting myself from the Evangelical world. It mirrors the experience of everyone I know who has likewise escaped. When someone leaves the Evangelical world, they lose their friends and their social support network. They often lose their spouse, their kids, their parents, their home, their job.

My story was a little more complicated. Most stories are.

I did not lose my job. I work in software development, and in this industry, people really don’t care about your relationship preferences or your beliefs about religion, as long as you can do your job and behave professionally at work.

I did not lose my kids. They were teenagers at the time and independent thinkers, and they were ultimately able to hear me and accept me.

I did lose everything else. Most of this loss occurred over the latter half of 2014—some a little earlier, some a little later—in a series of disruptive conflicts.

One such tremor in this life-shattering earthquake occurred following a Facebook post I shared in November of that year. The aftermath still haunts me, years later. I’m writing this in part to share my story and in part to process through the trauma I experienced because of how my religious friends and family responded to me.

I had run across this image of a church sign in my newsfeed.

The more “educated” we become, the farther we move away from God.

This is a trope that pops up repeatedly in Evangelicalism, which promotes an intense anti-intellectualism. It’s no coincidence that TheraminTrees‘s motto is, “People who don’t want you to think are never your friend.”

This anti-intellectualism is reflected in oft-cited Bible verses like Proverbs 3:5-8:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
 and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
 and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
 fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
 and nourishment to your bones.

This is not reasoned argument, but mere authoritarianism. Failing to obey is seen as a moral failing, and I remember it being taught to me that way in lessons I internalized even before I was old enough to understand the words. When Evangelical apologists rant against “moral relativism” and rave about “objective morality,” what they’re advocating for is moral authoritarianism as a substitute for reasoned ethical argument. They just want to bully you into doing whatever they say (like discriminate against gay people), rather than persuade you that it’s the right thing to do (because it isn’t).

In fact, that was a key realization that convinced me that I didn’t want to be an Evangelical anymore. Evangelicalism does not seek growth in its ethical understanding, because it is mired in dogma, and it will therefore always be on the wrong side of some important moral or social issue. That’s not an ideology I want to identify with, because it doesn’t reflect who I am or what I value. It was one of the first times I actually decided something for myself about who I was and what I wanted, instead of letting religious authorities tell me what to think and what to feel and who to be.

I also remember at one point studying in detail 1 Corinthians 1, which contains an extended rant against so-called worldly wisdom. The rant begins at verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ [Isaiah 29:14]”

Basically, if you think you have God figured out, think again. And if God doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because he’s purposely confused you in order to prove how infinite he is compared to you. He’s chosen nonsense to confound our human understanding, because we just can’t comprehend his greatness. Nice little bit of gaslighting there: I call you on your shit, and you claim it’s because I’m morally deficient. Explain to me again how this is not abusive?

(This last example is one that even relatively progressive sects buy into: no need for extreme fundamentalism on this one.)

Let’s be honest, though: in order to hold to a list of fundamental beliefs, you must learn how to shut off that natural urge to think. Otherwise, you’ll forever be running into evidence that disproves your beliefs, and you won’t be able to hold to them anymore. This is the basic deficiency of fundamentalism and why fundamentalists are so often unreasonable in their beliefs and dialogue.

So to see this message on the sign outside a fundamentalist Christian church—The more “educated” we become, the farther we move away from God—that made perfect sense to me. For the record, I did question whether it was a real church sign, and not just a Photoshopped mock-up. But even if it wasn’t, the message was one that I was intimately familiar with. However, I strongly suspect that it is genuine, as the form of the message is more nuanced than I would expect from a parody.

I shared this photo and added another thought:

And does this tell you more about the value of education, or more about how most people define “God”?

Logically, the contrapositive follows: The closer we move toward God, the less educated we become. And unfortunately, that statistically appears to be the case. It is probably all too often true.

There are a couple appropriate ways to respond: either point out the flaw in my reasoning, in the statistics, or in the other supporting observations; or else join me in criticizing anti-intellectualism and its effects. I got neither of these responses. I did get all of the standard privilege-protecting reactions, designed to bully me back into submission. When all you have is an authoritarian morality, everyone looks like a nail. Under these circumstances, it’s impossible to have an adult conversation.

They took it personally

You might note that I said nothing about any individual. I criticized the anti-intellectualism within Evangelicalism.

I even gave true believers an easy way out by implying there might be something wrong with “how most people define ‘God.'” Just join the standard chorus of: “That’s not God. They’ve got God all wrong.” That’s not a really good response, but it still would require first acknowledging the victims, and I contend that’s a step Christians are pathologically unable to take.

In truth, when I shared my post, I did not believe my religious family and friends were stupid. I believed they were wrong and possibly short-sighted. I was prepared for all those relationships to end, and if I thought they were stupid, I wouldn’t have even bothered talking to them; I would have just excluded them from my life.

I did not believe they were stupid. Their responses quickly disabused me of that notion.

Now I firmly believe that fundamentalism makes you stupid. These are not innately stupid people, no more stupid than I am. I was once a fundie, too. They’re actually smarter than they think they are. But as long as they live in that world, their anti-intellectual dogma places hard limits on how deeply their intelligence is permitted to reach. As a result, they use a portion of their intelligence to deny, select, and repackage evidence in order to uphold their core beliefs, rather than allowing those beliefs to be challenged and corrected by truth.

Growing closer to God makes you less educated. One of the more progressive comments I got was that this idea was an “inaccurate, unfair, and bigoted assumption.” This person, like everyone else, failed to ask me whether it jibed with my own experience as a Christian—although I can’t imagine why I’d share it if it hadn’t—or what statistics I had to back it up. I answered those questions anyhow. The person admitted that they not had ever been a fundamentalist Christian; therefore, they couldn’t comment on my perspective. They still refused to acknowledge that perspective, however, instead talking about “intolerance and damage propagated from both sides.” They whitewashed over the abuse rather than validating the victim.

Never mind the fact that most educated people are non-religious and most religious people are non-educated. Never mind that Christian preachers commonly warn of the dangers of higher education. Never mind that an astounding number of people in the US are young-earth creationists and don’t believe evolution is a fact, and they didn’t get that silly idea from their high-quality educations. And never mind how many highly educated people believe ridiculous, unsubstantiated, and disproven claims because their religion tells them to. They shut off their brains when their intelligence threatens to take them too far from their god. Education does not just mean “schooling,” it means allowing yourself to learn even when what you’re learning challenges your beliefs. And that’s an intellectual exercise that has hard limits within fundamentalist religions.

Yay. Chalk up a point for religious progressives.

Another person stated indignantly that they are a highly educated professional. Indeed, I can personally verify that this is true. But my post was not about them… unless they think it was. It’s kind of like Carly Simon’s song, “You’re So Vain.” You probably think that song is about you.

But really this is just a variation of #NotAllChristians, and it was a common refrain elsewhere in the thread. People respond with #NotAllChristians or #NotAllMen or other similar tropes because they are taking a story or criticism personally. The victim’s story feels like a personal attack, and #NotAllChristians erases the victim’s story by focusing on counterexamples.

However, I still maintain that counterexamples are limited and rare. Dogmatism falls along a spectrum, and fundamentalists as a rule are more dogmatic than progressives are. Even so, I gave them another easy out: “It is probably all too often true.” You can agree with me that this is bad, and that Christians are humans like everyone else, and that they do shit like this, and that it happens at all is “all too often.” No one took that escape hatch, probably because it would require acknowledging the spiritual abuse that Evangelicals often suffer at the hands of their religion and their god.

Others were just personally offended.

“I’m not even gonna read what you wrote. You’re making a case where there isn’t one. Pick better fights.” This was after a brief back-and-forth in which I refused to yield to his rationalizations, which included a healthy dose of #NotAllChristians, repackaging, and spiritual gaslighting, all wrapped up into a tidy little bomb.

But this tactic, simply not listening, too often works. As Evangelicals we are taught that we are nothing in and of ourselves and we need external validation: from our peers, from religious authorities, from our god. Denying that validation pushes the insecurity button, throwing the victim into fight-flight-freeze-fawn mode. My go-to reaction is to freeze. I ended up instead telling him that this was a personal attack and unacceptable behavior.

Drawing boundaries against a narcissist or his agents never goes well. I’ll finish the story in a bit.

Another person wrote, “I find this whole thing offensive. But what do I know? I’m just a God-loving idiot.”

I replied that I don’t care whether it’s offensive, as long as it’s true, and no one said they were an idiot.

They retorted, “Faith is Faith, not a measure of intelligence… We get it. You found Christianity sooo damaging. I’m glad you were able to find your way out of its evil clutches, but damn it, get over it.” And then, “My heart aches for your father and your family.”

I don’t think these people are irretrevably ignorant. And I hate that I look down on them for just trying the best they can. But this behavior is childish, like, 3-year-old temper-tantrum childish.

You’re the one in the position of privilege and psychological power, and you’re going to tell an abuse victim to “get over it”? Really? And then punctuate it with an “and your mother” jab? Really?

People who didn’t grow up in Evangelicalism don’t often get it, but this sort of behavior is not the exception; it’s the rule. This is Christian love, God’s love. This person confirmed that they actually did hear me say that I found Christianity damaging and really needed to get as far away as quickly as I could for my own mental health. And then they tore into me.

This behavior is more than just childish acting out. It’s a narcissistic defense strategy, projecting shame onto the person drawing the boundary or offering the criticism in an attempt to bully them into staying silent. It’s standard practice within Evangelical circles to defend God using this abusive strategy. God is the universe’s biggest narcissist. And when you are the victim on the inside, you do stay silent, for your own safety. And you buy into the abuse in a sort of spiritual Stockholm syndrome.

The truth is that, no, I don’t respect them, and I do think less of them because of these behaviors and attitudes. I don’t think they’re evil people, and I don’t think they’re stupid. I think even worse of them: I think they’re pitiful, helpless victims trapped in an abusive, dysfunctional system.

To these two commenters, I drew boundaries, saying that this behavior was unacceptable. I was still learning how to draw boundaries, so that took great courage. Consistent with Ross Rosenberg’s expectation, I found myself on the receiving end of “a projection of rage, anger, and the narcissist attacking” me, and then “the relationship [broke] apart into a bloody mess.” I ended up blocking them both.

The first of them had been my friend for over 20 years. We haven’t talked since, not even to say hello. And frankly, they can apologize to me, or they can go fuck themself. I’m through putting up with God’s flying monkeys.

They resolved their cognitive dissonance using denial, selection, and repackaging

Denial, selection, and repackaging are three strategies for resolving cognitive dissonance while maintaining an incorrect belief.

This old friend who I eventually blocked, they started by claiming that the message on the church sign was “tongue-in-cheek,” because of the quotes around the word educated. The more “educated” we become, the farther we move away from God. “It’s not an attack against education. It’s an attack against pride and how people become too ‘smart’ for God.”

Yeah… Isn’t that what I said in the first place? Except that, yeah, it is an attack against education. You just confirmed it.

Okay, I’ll explain again.

Evangelicals do not consider, for example, evolution to be educational, because it contradicts their creation dogma. So evolutionary scientists are not educated; they’re “educated.” We can acheieve the same effect by putting smart in quotes: don’t be too “smart” for God, “lean not on your own understanding,” and all that bullshit. Yeah, it’s tongue-in-cheek, but mocking the very thing we most need.

I suspect that this person couldn’t cope with the idea that an Evangelical-Christian, Bible-believing church could preach that we ought to limit our knowledge and understanding. So they repackaged the message on the church sign so that it could refer to some sort of fake education (whatever that is), so that a real education (whatever that is) was still consistent with growing closer to their god.

You really are too smart for God. Claiming that you’re not is spiritual gaslighting. God’s flying monkeys go out of their way to make you feel incompetent and stupid in order to keep you under control. I never called Christians stupid. If I thought they were stupid, I wouldn’t even bother with them, because I’d assume they were incapable of getting it. It’s Christians who are calling themselves stupid—and they possibly do believe they are stupid, because their religion tells them they are—and then they project that shame into me.

This person later said that I needed to present “legitimate evidence.” This happened after I had presented many pieces of evidence, and in fact was wearying of presenting so much evidence in numerous subthreads, all of which went unacknowledged. Any evidence I could present was ignored. That’s a denial strategy. If you don’t want facts to challenge your beliefs, just ignore the facts.

Let’s return to the #NotAllChristians tactic for a moment. People resort to this tactic when a victim’s story feels like a personal attack, because it shows that their religion is producing antisocial behavior. The fundamentalist Christian can’t reconcile that idea with the belief that their god is perfect. #NotAllChristians distracts from the victim’s story by focusing on examples that confirm that Christians are good people. It’s a selection tactic to resolve cognitive dissonance. Once you select only the stories that prove that your god is perfect, you don’t have to listen to the stories of anyone he and his minions have harmed.

Another comment claimed that “the correlation is between God and faith, not God and an education.”

Look, eventually your faith and your education will come into conflict. The more you learn about reality, the more areas of conflict you’ll encounter. In that moment of cognitive dissonance, you’ll need to choose one or the other. And if you’re a fundamentalist, it’s the education that needs to go. This is another recurring theme in the stories of ex-Evangelicals.

Or another way to put it: The more “educated” we become, the farther we move away from God.

Yeah, sometimes I feel like I really am talking to a brick wall.

Projecting shame

I’ve already mentioned projecting shame. This is a go-to tactic in Christian apologetics.

My long-time ex-friend said that my “new fervor” is what inspires me to post items like this. As usual, they didn’t bother to ask me what my motivations were. Instead, they assumed that I do things for the same reason they do, and they projected their own religious fervor into me. I’m sure they knew this would push a button, because I clearly value reasoned discussion over fervor. It’s a way of implying that I was acting irrationally, without actually saying it.

(Passive-aggressive jabs are also par for the course in Christian apologetics.)

There’s that need for validation again. But I don’t need you to validate me. I am not, in fact, acting irrationally. And I don’t need you to accept me, either. I used to live in your world, but now I see it from the outside, from a broader perspective. And that’s why you should listen to what I have to say. But if you don’t, it doesn’t cause me injury.

Nevertheless, this person rode that horse until it was dead…

They insisted that they weren’t wrong, and all I had was my own biased opinion.

They speculated that maybe the original signmaker simply wanted to provoke thought, then opined, “If only they knew an atheist got ahold of it, posted it on Facebook, and had a discussion about it with a long-time Christian friend who loves him.”

Fuck! How much shit can you pack into a single sentence? All of it is designed to push that same shame button: atheists getting ahold of Christian memes; Christians being more moral, more loving, more reasonable, more open-minded than atheists; and shit, I know what love looks like, and that ain’t it. This person obviously had zero interest in having an adult conversation about whether education and God are mutually compatible concepts. But they were interested in having a different conversation, one in which they shame me until I relent.

Another person talked about how atheists “spin” facts, and talked about “others they leave out.”

When it comes to religion, we atheists have no horse in the race. We don’t believe in a god who would demand that we spin or leave out facts. That’s that denial, selection, repackaging I talked about earlier. If there were an actual god, we would want to know about it. Really. Fundies have no concept of how deep a feeling of spiritual enlightenment can come from being proven wrong. When that happens, your eyes are opened, and you suddenly have a window of knowledge onto a whole new world that you didn’t even know existed. We don’t feel cognitive dissonance at the idea that there might be a god. We just need better evidence than the say-so of an ancient mythical text. We don’t actually care whether or not a god exists. But we do value the truth.

Similarly, if there were a redeeming aspect to the horrid stories told in the Bible, we’d want to know. We don’t have a horse in the religion race. We only want to discover systems that actually make life the best it can be for everyone.

But after talking about how atheists spin and ignore facts, this person urged “caution when reading Dawkins in condemning Scripture,” because Richard Dawkins is not a textual critic. I see two things going on here: Firstly, they’re selectively appealing to authority, listening to the authorities who confirm the dogma and ignoring the myriad textual critics who are on Dawkins’s side. Secondly, they’re repackaging the Bible so that it is always good: any beautiful, uplifting, inspiring story is taken as such, but any story in which God lies, murders, or commits genocide needs to be viewed through the Christian fundamentalist lens.

And here’s the interesting thing here: What Christian fundamentalists accuse atheists of doing—and what this person was accusing them of doing—is exactly what the fundies themselves do. They assume that atheists are acting from the same belief-based dogma that motivates them. But I believe this is more than mere naïve realism or the false-consensus effect. It’s difficult to admit that you’ve been spinning the truth and ignoring facts in order to shore up your dogma. And the Evangelical obsession with original sin elevates mistakes in judgment to the level of defects in character. (This is also a form of spiritual gaslighting.) So in order to preserve the fiction that they’re a good person, Christian fundamentalists need to project these feelings of shame into others by accusing them of the very epistemological errors that they themselves are making.

The thread that wouldn’t die

Anthony Magnabosco occasionally talks to fundamentalists in his Street Epistemology videos. Such conversations can devolve into, “I believe; therefore, I know; and that’s why I’m right.” Note that he never argues with them—that’s one of his rules. He only wants to know why they believe what they believe. But when faced with the incongruities of their beliefs, they can argue with themselves. And they can then project the argument into him.

I didn’t know about Street Epistemology in 2014, or else I might have approached the thread very differently. It can be fun to see fundamentalists argue with themselves, especially when you can sit back and just repeatedly ask, “But how do you know, when all the other religions of the world are equally persuasive that they are the ones who know?” That’s a side note. When this all went down, I didn’t have those tools at my disposal.

But the way it was, about this point, I really just wanted the stupid fucking thing to go away. I was beat down and weary of defending myself against an onslaught of hyper-emotional religious children in adults’ bodies hellbent on making me feel bad for being a spiritual abuse survivor.

Instead, new people came into the thread. (Thank you, Facebook! Your algorithm works perfectly. Fuck you.)

A couple of them started giving links to religious apologists. One person said that William Lane Craig was “brilliant” in a debate with the “impressive” Sam Harris. So Craig is brilliant, while Harris is only impressive? That’s ridiculous. William Lane Craig is not that brilliant. Like every other Christian apologist, he’s a lying sack of shit. These people defend fundie dogma for a living. They’ve had the errors in their arguments pointed out to them innumerable times over their decades-long careers. And in response, they dissemble, ignore legitimate criticisms, distract from and refuse to face facts, and twist the truth in order to defend their narcissistic god. And sometimes they even outright lie. Their job is to defend their dogma against the truth. They are professional flying monkeys, and they are very good at it. They are not not brilliant, and certainly not to be respected.

And by the way, Craig often relies on the authoritarian “objective” morality that I condemned earlier. He loves to argue that if there’s no moral lawgiver, then (he says) there’s no moral law (which is a patently false statement, but ultimately irrelevant). And since that would be too horrible to fathom, so the story goes, we’d better figure out a way to invent a moral lawgiver, by any means necessary. If you were careening toward a cliff, you wouldn’t want people to lie to you just to make you feel better, but that’s exactly the button Craig and his ilk push. If there really is no moral law, I don’t think you want people lying to you just to make you feel better. These philosophical arguments for the existence of the Christian god (or the Jewish god or the Muslim god, depending on who’s making the arguments)— These philosophical arguments were discredited centuries ago, but to William Lane Craig, they’re still his bread and butter.

But what’s even more frustrating is the way that Christians respond to these douchebags— No, wait. That sentence is an insult to literal douchebags. What’s even more frustrating is how Christians fall into lockstep with this bullshit. They completely buy into the twisted logic. They are completely onboard with denying uncomfortable truths, focusing only on facts that make them feel good, and rewriting reality in order to validate the dogma. (That’s denial, selection, and repackaging, for those paying attention.)

One commenter in my thread even claimed—in a repackaging feat par excellence—that Sam Harris argued from his own understanding of hell, “not the Biblical concept.” Again with erasing the stories of victims and defending a horrid myth. Are you honestly trying to claim that Evangelical Christians do not believe in hell? Are you honestly trying to dismiss the psychological harm they’ve suffered by being threatened with hell? And do you honestly believe there is any concept of hell that could possibly redeem it and make it an acceptable story to tell? This person did not expand on what they meant by the “Biblical concept” of hell. I don’t know what they thought they had in mind: the whole idea is fundamentally bankrupt; even a large number of Christians have given up on it.

As Greta Christina put it:

Quashing science and education. Do I even need to explain this one? Do I need to explain how the untestability of religion — and the idea that untestability is a positive virtue — undercuts science and education? Not just in a general, “making people devalue science and education” way — but in specific, practical, harmful ways? Hamstringing stem cell research? Forcing abstinence-only sex education on kids? Teaching creationism in public schools?

When religion teaches that believing in the invisible is more important than understanding the perceivable…that personal faith is more important than critical thinking…that letting go of questions is a liberating act of love and trust…that believing things with no evidence is not only okay but a positive virtue…that unfalsifiable hypotheses are just ducky…that what God supposedly says about the world is more real than what’s in the world itself…

Do I need to explain this any further? Do I need to explain how this “Facts take a back seat to faith” trope hammers science and education into the ground?

(Greta Christina. Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. Kindle Locations 933-941.)

Ross Rosenberg was right

Sam Harris once wrote:

The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we will kill you. Of course, the truth is often more nuanced, but this is about as nuanced as it ever gets: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we peaceful Muslims cannot be held responsible for what our less peaceful brothers and sisters do. When they burn your embassies or kidnap and slaughter your journalists, know that we will hold you primarily responsible and will spend the bulk of our energies criticizing you for “racism” and “Islamophobia.”

(Sam Harris. “Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks.” Huffington Post.)

I’m glad that criticizing Christian theology and practice isn’t as fraught with danger as that. But there does seem to be an parallel: Christianity is a religion of truth, and if you say that it isn’t, we truthful Christians cannot be held responsible for what our less informed brothers and sisters do. When they shout at you, when they demean and stigmatize you, when they refuse to take your legitimate criticisms and complaints seriously, dismiss your perspective and devalue your hurt, and then when they reject your identity and label you “damaged” and “sinner,” know that we will hold you primarily responsible and will spend the bulk of our energies criticizing you for “bigotry” and “intolerance.”

Ross Rosenberg was not talking about religion in the video that started this post. The video is subtitled, “When Losing Your Family Is Good, But Hurts.” He was not talking about religion, but escaping a manipulative religion like Evangelicalism is a very similar experience to escaping a narcissistic human relationship. In the end, it was good to get these people out of my life. Most of them I did not block on Facebook, but I hardly ever talk to them, just the same.

They have no idea how much happier and more satisfying my life is now. I have a growing list of high-quality friends. Many turn out to be acquaintances or casual friends. Some I connect with deeply but only see once in a while. And a few have turned out to be close confidants. All see me as I am and accept me.

Evangelicals claim they have a corner on love and fulfilment. But I’ve lived in that world, and that ain’t love. This is love. This is fulfilment of every flavor: accomplishment, status, attention, community, spirituality. And most of them will never know it.