“I am 30 years old and I am struggling to find sanity. Between
the Christian schools, homeschooling, the Christian group home
(indoctrinating work camp) and different churches in different cities, I
am a psychological, emotional and spiritual mess.” --A former
If a former believer says that Christianity made her depressed,
obsessive, or post-traumatic, she is likely to be dismissed as an
exaggerator. She might describe panic attacks about the rapture; moods
that swung from ecstasy about God’s overwhelming love to suicidal
self-loathing about repeated sins; or an obsession with sexual purity.
A symptom like one of these clearly has a religious component, yet
many people instinctively blame the victim. They will say that the
wounded former believer was prone to anxiety or depression or obsession
in the first place—that his Christianity somehow got corrupted by his
predisposition to psychological problems. Or they will say that he
wasn’t a real Christian. If only he had prayed in faith believing or loved God with all his heart, soul and mind, if only he had really been saved—then he would have experienced the peace that passes all understanding.
One requirement for success as a sincere Christian is to find a way
to believe that which would be unbelievable under normal rules of
evidence and inquiry. Christianity contains concepts that help to
safeguard belief, such as limiting outside information, practicing
thought control, and self-denigration; but for some people the emotional
numbing and intellectual suicide just isn’t enough. In other words, for
a significant number of children in Christian families, the religion
just doesn’t “take.” This can trigger guilt, conflict, and ultimately
rejection or abandonment.
Others experience the threats and fear too keenly. For them,
childhood can be torturous, and they may carry injuries into adulthood.
Still others are able to sincerely devote themselves to the faith as
children but confront problems when they mature. They wrestle with
factual and moral contradictions in the Bible and the church, or
discover surprising alternatives. This can feel confusing and terrifying
- like the whole world is falling apart.