One of the central beliefs of the evangelical church is that if you don’t bow down to the theology, it’s because you don’t get the theology. You don’t understand what it is to be in a real relationship with the almighty creator of the universe. You simply haven’t experienced the extravagant love of Jesus.
That’s why you walked away, they say. Because there was something too weak, perhaps even too selfish in you, and that thing kept you from grasping the most important concept in the world: that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, and no one goes to heaven without believing in him first.
I was reminded of all this on Wednesday of last week, when my twitter mentions got bombarded by a group of people known as Trad (short for “Traditional”) Catholics. To be honest, I had NO IDEA who the hell these people were as they digitally hurled scripture and Latin at me, and I consulted some internet friends who are far more learned about this stuff to figure out what was going on.
Turns out there’s a fundamentalist wing of Catholicism (I am not surprised) and they are identical to evangelicals in their dangerous radicalism and gaslighting assholery (I am also not surprised.)
But the most identical facet of all was the way they attacked my intelligence, and the grounds they attacked it on.
OK so let’s back up a second. Here’s the tweet that got these people super butt hurt.
I know, I know. It’s no wonder I made enemies by posting something like this. But really. I wanted to examine the way evangelical theology roots itself in death and then seeks to kill the autonomy of its believers until they’re robot troops for a Wizard of Oz spirit dictator (who is just a bunch of cis-hetero white male patriarchs behind the curtain, but that’s a discussion for another post.)
ANYWAY. The Trad Catholics went apeshit on me, and they called me stupid in many different ways. NOTE: I’m screenshotting and covering up account names/handles in an attempt to avoid stirring this shit up again and having to block 200 angry zealots while I’m in back-to-back work meetings.
There were others, of course, in which the theological beliefs were explained to me in ways I had heard before ad nauseum—quoting scripture, telling me to read Thomas Aquinas, trying to take me down the same winding roads of doctrinal nonsense I swore off 5 years ago.
I was called stupid for exposing a belief I had been taught, a belief I experienced until I couldn’t see myself anymore.
I was called stupid in a way I used to be afraid of, but now, I know better than to believe it.
Fundamentalists get angry when you point out the belief behind their beliefs, the way they’re told not to look at things. They want to focus on the petals of their theological flower, the stem and the leaves and the cute little buds, but never the root—never the teachings it grows from. They live by scripted commentary and spins that pastors have been twirling out of their brains for centuries, but they never call a thing a thing. They’re trained to ignore the obvious.
So far, the most interesting and, frankly, predictable part of being vocal about my evangelical experiences is the reaction I receive when I expose these roots. When I say the things we weren’t supposed to say, when I examine the beliefs in the ways we were told not to, the attacks are always intellectual.
And then, somehow, like clockwork, they turn more personal.
In other words, I’m not a good enough person to understand. If I just understood on a relational level what it is to follow Jesus, to love the person of him, then I wouldn’t be saying this.
Teaching people that they should be willing to die for their belief system is a very convenient way for fundamentalist churches to maintain power, and the “you just don’t get it” argument is a defense of their own radicalization. It’s a way of weaponizing “I feel” statements. You don’t feel what I feel because you’re not spiritual enough to feel it. You haven’t experienced Jesus enough to understand what I do, that losing yourself to him is the best thing that can happen.
Perhaps another church taught you the wrong things. Perhaps some Bible study leader poisoned you with a skewed interpretation. They’ll come up with all types of arguments and excuses for why you leaving wasn’t about their true theology—how it’s not a mark on the Jesus they really believe in.
But it is, and you know it is. You know that you left the very beliefs they hold dear, and it’s not because you don’t get them. It’s because you saw through them.
I’m not going to pretend that this Trad Catholic Twitter attack wasn’t triggering as hell for me, because it was. I wanted to tear them apart every time they called me stupid and defend myself into the oblivion. I didn’t actually want to block any of these people, especially when they claimed that I was only doing so because they were confronting my “ridiculous narrative”. I wanted to take them all on, one by one, in the intellectual boxing ring of the internet. I wanted to rip their bullshit fundamentalist supremacy to shreds and then virtually kick them back into the cyber sewer hole from whence they emerged.
I wanted to do it for the person I used to be, the vulnerable college student who was trapped inside those beliefs. Maybe there’s a part of myself I’m still trying to set free.
Alas, though. I have bills to pay. I couldn’t spend the entire day avenging my trauma while my mentions went haywire.
You or I or anyone who has left fundamentalism isn’t obligated to engage those who attack us intellectually—especially when they’re coming from the world that we just left. Our decision isn’t something we have to defend, even if they call us selfish. No matter how deeply they try to make it about us, it will always be about them.
They will never own that, but neither will I. And I won’t stop talking about it.