Mental health expert details 10 thought patterns that trip up former Christians

Perhaps it's been years or even decades since you left biblical Christianity behind. You may have noticed long ago that there are human handprints all over the Good Book. It may have dawned on you that popular Christian versions of heaven would actually be hellish. You may have figured out that prayer works, if at all, at the margins of statistical significance—that Believers don't avoid illness or live longer than people who pray to other gods or none at all. You may have clued in that Christian morality isn't so hot and that other people have moral values too. (Shocking!) You may have decided that the God of the Bible is a jerk—or worse.

But some habits of thought are hard to break. It is a lot easier to shed the contents of Christian fundamentalism than its psychological structure.

Here are ten mental patterns that trip up many ex-Christians even when we think we've done the work of moving on. None of these are unique to former Christians, but they are reinforced by Bible-belief and Christian culture, which can make them particularly challenging for recovering believers.

  1. All or nothing thinking. In traditional Christian teachings, no sin is too small to send you to hell forever. You're either saved or damned, headed for unthinkable bliss or unthinkable torment, with nothing in between. Jesus saves only because he was perfect. Moderate Christians are "lukewarm."This kind of dichotomous black-and-white thinking seeps into us directly from Bible-believing Christianity and indirectly from cultures that are steeped in Protestantism. Sports? Enjoying the activity isn't enough; you need to be all in. No pain no gain. Work? You're a real worker only if you get back on the computer after dinner. Bragging rights start at 60 hours per week. Political? The more absolutist your proclamations, the more you'll gain a following.
  2. Good guys and bad guys. One consequence of black-white thinking is that we put people into two mental boxes—good guys and bad guys. You are either with us or against us, a patriot or a socialist, an anti-racist or a racist, one of us or one of them. Disagreement becomes synonymous with schism and heresy.When we discover the personal failings of a public figure like Bill Gates, we may move them from one box to the other, good guy to bad guy. Christianity offers no mental model in which people are complicated and imperfect but basically decent—we are just fallen ("utterly depraved" in the words of Calvin) and either washed in the blood or tools of Satan.
  3. Never feeling good enough. Since we are acutely aware of our own failings, it can be hard internally to stay out of the bad-guy box. Some of us toggle between "I'm awesome" and "I suck." Others have a nagging internal critic that tells us nothing we do is ever quite good enough. After all, it isn't perfect, and that's the biblical standard.
  4. Hyperactive guilt detection. Biblical Christianity gives tremendous moral weight to all of this, and the practice of "confessing our sins one to another" turns believers into guilt-muscle body builders. We live in a world of shoulds and should-nots, and in the Protestant ethic, those daily failings are moral failings. A nagging sense of guilt can become baseline normal, with little bursts of extra guilt as we notice one thing or another that we have left undone or goals where we have fallen short.
  5. Sexual hangups. For many former Christians, particularly for women or queer people but also straight guys who like sex, it's impossible to talk about guilt without talking about sex, because sexual sins are the worst of the worst. When it comes to the Bible, getting and giving sexual pleasure are more matters of temptation than of intimacy and delight. Idolatry and murder share the top 10 list with coveting your neighbor's wife. Then there's virgin-madonna-whore trifecta. And don't forget God hates fags.
  6. Living for the future. Sexual intimacy isn't the only kind of pleasure that biblical Christianity devalues; the consecrated life focuses broadly on the future rather than the moment. The small every-day wonders that comprise the center of joy in mindful living are mere distractions for a person who has their eye on the prize of heaven. As former believers grow convinced that each person gets one precious life, those individual moments can become treasures. But the habit of focusing on the future can make it really hard to center in the moment, breathe in, and bask in the ordinary beauties and delights around us.
  7. Bracing for an apocalypse. Even worse than being drawn by the lure of heaven is being braced constantly for some impending apocalypse. We may no longer expect a Rapture or the Mark of the Beast or Jesus riding in on a horse. But the idea of a cataclysmic disruption in history looms large nonetheless. A sense of nuclear doom or pandemic doom or overpopulation doom or underpopulation doom may nudge us to action or be paralyzing. Either way, the experience is very different from being driven by a sense of curiosity and discovery as we face the unknown.
  8. Idealizing leaders. Living in a cloud of anxiety makes us more susceptible to demagogues and authoritarians, people who exude confidence we lack, who convey that they know what's right and true and how to solve problems. They prey on our fears and on our desire to do good and be good. They prey on our sense of ourselves as sinners and tell us how to atone. (Sound familiar?) They prey on dichotomous thinking, reinforcing our sense that people who don't share our worldview must be evil and so must be silenced or defeated.
  9. Desperately seeking simplicity. Biblical Christianity tells a story about us as individuals and about human history that is clear and simple. Multi-dimensional causality? Moral ambiguity? Conflicts with no good side and bad side—just sides? Problems with no right answer? Blurry boundaries between human beings and other sentient species? No thanks!Fiction from Western cultures often mirrors and reinforces older Christian templates and tropes and specific types of oversimplification. And it's all to easy to project these in turn onto the hard-to-parse and hard-to-solve challenges of the real world. We know deep down that things aren't so simple, but it's easy to act as if we live in a world of saints and sinners, elves and orcs.
  10. Intrusive what-ifs. And so we struggle, with new and old interpretations of reality and thought habits competing in our brains. We tell ourselves it's ok; that we're ok. But often nagging doubts persist. What if I'm wrong? Many years ago I told a therapist that I didn't believe in the Christian god anymore, but I didn't talk to anyone about it because I didn't want to take them to hell with me. He laughed and I laughed at myself, but it also felt very real.The journey out is . . . a journey. Along the way people second guess themselves, especially if Bible-belief got inside when they were young. Years after quitting a former smoker may crave a cigarette. That doesn't mean they were wrong to quit. It just means those synaptic connections got hardwired, soldered in place, and some of them are still there.

In the real world, growth is gnarly. It happens in fits and starts, with forward leaps and sideways turns and backward skids and times of stasis. Change is rarely linear. Flip-flopping often serves truth-seeking. Certitude is rarely a virtue. We seldom know where we are headed. Nonetheless, sometimes we can look back and say with confidence, Not that. I may not know exactly what is true and right and real, but there are some things I can rule out.

I often find myself quoting one former Bible believer who made a comment but left no name: I would rather live with unanswered questions than unquestioned answers. Embracing uncertainty about the future and the big questions frees us to live more in the small delights of the near and present—a nest of blue jays, a hug, the smell of butter on toast. That may be as good as it gets.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Quillette, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

RTS: Here's how some religion leads to mental health problems

At age sixteen I began what would be a four year struggle with bulimia. When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister. "If you ask anything in faith, believing," they said. "It will be done." I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers.

But my horrible compulsions didn't go away. By the fall of my sophomore year in college, I was desperate and depressed enough that I made a suicide attempt. The problem wasn't just the bulimia. I was convinced by then that I was a complete spiritual failure. My college counseling department had offered to get me real help (which they later did). But to my mind, at that point, such help couldn't fix the core problem: I was a failure in the eyes of God. It would be years before I understood that my inability to heal bulimia through the mechanisms offered by biblical Christianity was not a function of my own spiritual deficiency but deficiencies in Evangelical religion itself.

Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Area. She is also the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. This combination has given her work an unusual focus. For the past twenty years she has counseled men and women in recovery from various forms of fundamentalist religion including the Assemblies of God denomination in which she was raised. Winell is the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion, written during her years of private practice in psychology. Over the years, Winell has provided assistance to clients whose religious experiences were even more damaging than mine. Some of them are people whose psychological symptoms weren't just exacerbated by their religion, but actually caused by it.

Two years ago, Winell made waves by formally labeling what she calls "Religious Trauma Syndrome" (RTS) and beginning to write and speak on the subject for professional audiences. When the British Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists published a series of articles on the topic, members of a Christian counseling association protested what they called excessive attention to a "relatively niche topic." One commenter said, "A religion, faith or book cannot be abuse but the people interpreting can make anything abusive."

Is toxic religion simply misinterpretation? What is religious trauma? Why does Winell believe religious trauma merits its own diagnostic label? I asked her.

Let's start this interview with the basics. What exactly is religious trauma syndrome?

Winell: Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group. The RTS label provides a name and description that affected people often recognize immediately. Many other people are surprised by the idea of RTS, because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. Just like telling kids about Santa Claus and letting them work out their beliefs later, people see no harm in teaching religion to children.

But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. As Journalist Janet Heimlich has documented in, Breaking Their Will, Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.

But the problem isn't just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black and white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.

Can you give me an example of RTS from your consulting practice?

Winell: I can give you many. One of the symptom clusters is around fear and anxiety. People indoctrinated into fundamentalist Christianity as small children sometimes have memories of being terrified by images of hell and apocalypse before their brains could begin to make sense of such ideas. Some survivors, who I prefer to call "reclaimers," have flashbacks, panic attacks, or nightmares in adulthood even when they intellectually no longer believe the theology. One client of mine, who during the day functioned well as a professional, struggled with intense fear many nights. She said,

I was afraid I was going to hell. I was afraid I was doing something really wrong. I was completely out of control. I sometimes would wake up in the night and start screaming, thrashing my arms, trying to rid myself of what I was feeling. I'd walk around the house trying to think and calm myself down, in the middle of the night, trying to do some self-talk, but I felt like it was just something that – the fear and anxiety was taking over my life.

Or consider this comment, which refers to a film used by Evangelicals to warn about the horrors of the "end times" for nonbelievers.

I was taken to see the film "A Thief In The Night". WOW. I am in shock to learn that many other people suffered the same traumas I lived with because of this film. A few days or weeks after the film viewing, I came into the house and mom wasn't there. I stood there screaming in terror. When I stopped screaming, I began making my plan: Who my Christian neighbors were, who's house to break into to get money and food. I was 12 yrs old and was preparing for Armageddon alone.

In addition to anxiety, RTS can include depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning. In fundamentalist Christianity, the individual is considered depraved and in need of salvation. A core message is "You are bad and wrong and deserve to die." (The wages of sin is death.) This gets taught to millions of children through organizations like Child Evangelism Fellowship, and there is a group organized to oppose their incursion into public schools. I've had clients who remember being distraught when given a vivid bloody image of Jesus paying the ultimate price for their sins. Decades later they sit telling me that they can't manage to find any self-worth.

After twenty-seven years of trying to live a perfect life, I failed. . . I was ashamed of myself all day long. My mind battling with itself with no relief. . . I always believed everything that I was taught but I thought that I was not approved by God. I thought that basically I, too, would die at Armageddon.
I've spent literally years injuring myself, cutting and burning my arms, taking overdoses and starving myself, to punish myself so that God doesn't have to punish me. It's taken me years to feel deserving of anything good.

Born-again Christianity and devout Catholicism tell people they are weak and dependent, calling on phrases like "lean not unto your own understanding" or "trust and obey." People who internalize these messages can suffer from learned helplessness. I'll give you an example from a client who had little decision-making ability after living his entire life devoted to following the "will of God." The words here don't convey the depth of his despair.

I have an awful time making decisions in general. Like I can't, you know, wake up in the morning, "What am I going to do today? Like I don't even know where to start. You know all the things I thought I might be doing are gone and I'm not sure I should even try to have a career; essentially I babysit my four-year-old all day.

Authoritarian religious groups are subcultures where conformity is required in order to belong. Thus if you dare to leave the religion, you risk losing your entire support system as well.

I lost all my friends. I lost my close ties to family. Now I'm losing my country. I've lost so much because of this malignant religion and I am angry and sad to my very core. . . I have tried hard to make new friends, but I have failed miserably. . . I am very lonely.

Leaving a religion, after total immersion, can cause a complete upheaval of a person's construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, and the future. People unfamiliar with this situation, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create.

My form of religion was very strongly entrenched and anchored deeply in my heart. It is hard to describe how fully my religion informed, infused, and influenced my entire worldview. My first steps out of fundamentalism were profoundly frightening and I had frequent thoughts of suicide. Now I'm way past that but I still haven't quite found "my place in the universe.

Even for a person who was not so entrenched, leaving one's religion can be a stressful and significant transition.

Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily, without really looking back. What is different about the clientele you work with?

Winell: Religious groups that are highly controlling, teach fear about the world, and keep members sheltered and ill-equipped to function in society are harder to leave easily. The difficulty seems to be greater if the person was born and raised in the religion rather than joining as an adult convert. This is because they have no frame of reference – no other "self" or way of "being in the world." A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. "True believers" who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.

Aren't these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways?

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply "walk away" because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

In your mind, how is RTS different from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Winell: RTS is a specific set of symptoms and characteristics that are connected with harmful religious experience, not just any trauma. This is crucial to understanding the condition and any kind of self-help or treatment. (More details about this can be found on my Journey Free website and discussed in my talk at the Texas Freethought Convention.)

Another difference is the social context, which is extremely different from other traumas or forms of abuse. When someone is recovering from domestic abuse, for example, other people understand and support the need to leave and recover. They don't question it as a matter of interpretation, and they don't send the person back for more. But this is exactly what happens to many former believers who seek counseling. If a provider doesn't understand the source of the symptoms, he or she may send a client for pastoral counseling, or to AA, or even to another church. One reclaimer expressed her frustration this way:

Include physically-abusive parents who quote "Spare the rod and spoil the child" as literally as you can imagine and you have one fucked-up soul: an unloved, rejected, traumatized toddler in the body of an adult. I'm simply a broken spirit in an empty shell. But wait…That's not enough!? There's also the expectation by everyone in society that we victims should celebrate this with our perpetrators every Christmas and Easter!!

Just like disorders such as autism or bulimia, giving RTS a real name has important advantages. People who are suffering find that having a label for their experience helps them feel less alone and guilty. Some have written to me to express their relief:

There's actually a name for it! I was brainwashed from birth and wasted 25 years of my life serving Him! I've since been out of my religion for several years now, but i cannot shake the haunting fear of hell and feel absolutely doomed. I'm now socially inept, unemployable, and the only way i can have sex is to pay for it.

Labeling RTS encourages professionals to study it more carefully, develop treatments, and offer training. Hopefully, we can even work on prevention.

What do you see as the difference between religion that causes trauma and religion that doesn't?

Winell: Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.

Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. The book, Healthy Religion, describes these traits. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule. More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.

Some people say that terms like "recovery from religion" and "religious trauma syndrome" are just atheist attempts to pathologize religious belief.

Winell: Mental health professionals have enough to do without going out looking for new pathology. I never set out looking for a "niche topic," and certainly not religious trauma syndrome. I originally wrote a paper for a conference of the American Psychological Association and thought that would be the end of it. Since then, I have tried to move on to other things several times, but this work has simply grown.

In my opinion, we are simply, as a culture, becoming aware of religious trauma. More and more people are leaving religion, as seen by polls showing that the "religiously unaffiliated" have increased in the last five years from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. It's no wonder the internet is exploding with websites for former believers from all religions, providing forums for people to support each other. The huge population of people "leaving the fold" includes a subset at risk for RTS, and more people are talking about it and seeking help. For example, there are thousands of former Mormons, and I was asked to speak about RTS at an Exmormon Foundation conference. I facilitate an international support group online called Release and Reclaim which has monthly conference calls. An organization called Recovery from Religion, helps people start self-help meet-up groups

Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy? No, before that we weren't noticing. People were suffering, thought they were alone, and blamed themselves. Professionals had no awareness or training. This is the situation of RTS today. Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.

—- Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. More information about Marlene Winell and resources for getting help with RTS may be found at Journey Free. Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

These 10 thought processes trip up former Bible believers

Perhaps it's been years or even decades since you left biblical Christianity behind. You may have noticed long ago that there are human handprints all over the Good Book. It may have dawned on you that popular Christian versions of heaven would actually be hellish. You may have figured out that prayer works, if at all, at the margins of statistical significance—that Believers don't avoid illness or live longer than people who pray to other gods or none at all. You may have clued in that Christian morality isn't so hot and that other people have moral values too. (Shocking!) You may have decided that the God of the Bible is a jerk—or worse.

But some habits of thought are hard to break. It is a lot easier to shed the contents of Christian fundamentalism than its psychological structure.

Here are ten mental patterns that trip up many ex-Christians even when we think we've done the work of moving on. None of these are unique to former Christians, but they are reinforced by Bible-belief and Christian culture, which can make them particularly challenging for recovering believers.

  1. All or nothing thinking. In traditional Christian teachings, no sin is too small to send you to hell forever. You're either saved or damned, headed for unthinkable bliss or unthinkable torment, with nothing in between. Jesus saves only because he was perfect. Moderate Christians are "lukewarm."This kind of dichotomous black-and-white thinking seeps into us directly from Bible-believing Christianity and indirectly from cultures that are steeped in Protestantism. Sports? Enjoying the activity isn't enough; you need to be all in. No pain no gain. Work? You're a real worker only if you get back on the computer after dinner. Bragging rights start at 60 hours per week. Political? The more absolutist your proclamations, the more you'll gain a following.
  2. Good guys and bad guys. One consequence of black-white thinking is that we put people into two mental boxes—good guys and bad guys. You are either with us or against us, a patriot or a socialist, an anti-racist or a racist, one of us or one of them. Disagreement becomes synonymous with schism and heresy.When we discover the personal failings of a public figure like Bill Gates, we may move them from one box to the other, good guy to bad guy. Christianity offers no mental model in which people are complicated and imperfect but basically decent—we are just fallen ("utterly depraved" in the words of Calvin) and either washed in the blood or tools of Satan.
  3. Never feeling good enough. Since we are acutely aware of our own failings, it can be hard internally to stay out of the bad-guy box. Some of us toggle between "I'm awesome" and "I suck." Others have a nagging internal critic that tells us nothing we do is ever quite good enough. After all, it isn't perfect, and that's the biblical standard.
  4. Hyperactive guilt detection. Biblical Christianity gives tremendous moral weight to all of this, and the practice of "confessing our sins one to another" turns believers into guilt-muscle body builders. We live in a world of shoulds and should-nots, and in the Protestant ethic, those daily failings are moral failings. A nagging sense of guilt can become baseline normal, with little bursts of extra guilt as we notice one thing or another that we have left undone or goals where we have fallen short.
  5. Sexual hangups. For many former Christians, particularly for women or queer people but also straight guys who like sex, it's impossible to talk about guilt without talking about sex, because sexual sins are the worst of the worst. When it comes to the Bible, getting and giving sexual pleasure are more matters of temptation than of intimacy and delight. Idolatry and murder share the top 10 list with coveting your neighbor's wife. Then there's virgin-madonna-whore trifecta. And don't forget God hates fags.
  6. Living for the future. Sexual intimacy isn't the only kind of pleasure that biblical Christianity devalues; the consecrated life focuses broadly on the future rather than the moment. The small every-day wonders that comprise the center of joy in mindful living are mere distractions for a person who has their eye on the prize of heaven. As former believers grow convinced that each person gets one precious life, those individual moments can become treasures. But the habit of focusing on the future can make it really hard to center in the moment, breathe in, and bask in the ordinary beauties and delights around us.
  7. Bracing for an apocalypse. Even worse than being drawn by the lure of heaven is being braced constantly for some impending apocalypse. We may no longer expect a Rapture or the Mark of the Beast or Jesus riding in on a horse. But the idea of a cataclysmic disruption in history looms large nonetheless. A sense of nuclear doom or pandemic doom or overpopulation doom or underpopulation doom may nudge us to action or be paralyzing. Either way, the experience is very different from being driven by a sense of curiosity and discovery as we face the unknown.
  8. Idealizing leaders. Living in a cloud of anxiety makes us more susceptible to demagogues and authoritarians, people who exude confidence we lack, who convey that they know what's right and true and how to solve problems. They prey on our fears and on our desire to do good and be good. They prey on our sense of ourselves as sinners and tell us how to atone. (Sound familiar?) They prey on dichotomous thinking, reinforcing our sense that people who don't share our worldview must be evil and so must be silenced or defeated.
  9. Desperately seeking simplicity. Biblical Christianity tells a story about us as individuals and about human history that is clear and simple. Multi-dimensional causality? Moral ambiguity? Conflicts with no good side and bad side—just sides? Problems with no right answer? Blurry boundaries between human beings and other sentient species? No thanks! Fiction from Western cultures often mirrors and reinforces older Christian templates and tropes and specific types of oversimplification. And it's all too easy to project these in turn onto the hard-to-parse and hard-to-solve challenges of the real world. We know deep down that things aren't so simple, but it's easy to act as if we live in a world of saints and sinners, elves and orcs.
  10. Intrusive what-ifs. And so we struggle, with new and old interpretations of reality and thought habits competing in our brains. We tell ourselves it's ok; that we're ok. But often nagging doubts persist. What if I'm wrong? Many years ago I told a therapist that I didn't believe in the Christian god anymore, but I didn't talk to anyone about it because I didn't want to take them to hell with me. He laughed and I laughed at myself, but it also felt very real.The journey out is . . . a journey. Along the way people second guess themselves, especially if Bible-belief got inside when they were young. Years after quitting a former smoker may crave a cigarette. That doesn't mean they were wrong to quit. It just means those synaptic connections got hardwired, soldered in place, and some of them are still there.

In the real world, growth is gnarly. It happens in fits and starts, with forward leaps and sideways turns and backward skids and times of stasis. Change is rarely linear. Flip-flopping often serves truth-seeking. Certitude is rarely a virtue. We seldom know where we are headed. Nonetheless, sometimes we can look back and say with confidence, Not that. I may not know exactly what is true and right and real, but there are some things I can rule out.

I often find myself quoting one former Bible believer who made a comment but left no name: I would rather live with unanswered questions than unquestioned answers. Embracing uncertainty about the future and the big questions frees us to live more in the small delights of the near and present—a nest of blue jays, a hug, the smell of butter on toast. That may be as good as it gets.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Quillette, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

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Most antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.”  In other words, based on the evidence available they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity. At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.

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Progressives are trying to win over rural Trump voters in 'the worst possible way'

Devin Poore grew up near the northeast corner of Washington State. Ferry County is one of the poorest in the state, with a median household income of 41,000 (contrasted with a state median of 66,000), and one of the most Republican. Sixty-one percent of those voting in 2016 cast their ballots for Donald Trump, compared to 38 percent statewide.

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Get in the way of a Bible-believing soldier on a mission for Jesus and things can get ugly really fast

Just ask Bonnie and Mikey Weinstein, co-founders of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who regularly receive messages like these:

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Religious Trauma Syndrome: Psychologist reveals how organized religion can lead to mental health problems

At age sixteen I began what would be a four year struggle with bulimia.  When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister.  “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said.  “It will be done.” I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers.

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Is it Trump’s god-complex or God’s Trump-complex? Either way Trump and Jehovah have an awful lot in common

People have been scratching their heads about how so many “family values” American voters who claim to love Jesus can follow Donald Trump. What ever happened to love thy neighbor, and if you have two coats give one to the poor, and turn the other cheek, and feed my lambs, and the meek shall inherit the Earth?  Some horrified Christian leaders have gone so far as to say a person can’t be a Christian and a Trump supporter.

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