Learning to trust myself: intellectual honesty, appealing to authority, & deconverting from Christianity.

“I only got a 1400-something the first time I took the SATs,” he said, his voice dripping with disdain for this clear intellectual failing.

A group of us were lounging around in the lobby of one of the main buildings at our church camp, talking about our relatively recent forays into college and how we ended up where we were. I was both the only girl in the group, and the only person majoring in something not considered impressive. To hear them talk about it, though, it was because I chose art, not that I couldn’t really do much of anything else.

“Same here,” another of our friends replied, shaking his head with a self-deprecating smile on his face. “I think it may have even been a 1300-something.” We all winced at his admitted buffoonery.

What they didn’t know is that I joined them in their laughter to hide my shock at their brainiacal prowess and hopefully deflect any attention that might reveal my idiocy…only to freeze when the first guy turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and asked, “So, Dani, what was your SAT score?”

My face grew red and I chuckled nervously. “Oh! Uhm…I don’t…I don’t want to talk about it…”

“Oh, come on!” he prodded, turning to face me in his earnestness. “It can’t be that bad! You’re really smart!”

My blush grew deeper at the compliment (he was a major crush at the time, okay?) and also at the panic swelling in my chest. If he thinks that a 1400-something is pathetic, and he thinks I’m super smart, there is no way in hell I’m telling him I was happy with my 1130.

People’s opinions of me have always made or broken my internal world, where I spend most of my time anyway (hello, INFJ). It’s something I’ve been actively working to change the past few years, but it’s difficult. It’s always been a fear of mine that I’m not really all that bright, that my thinking skills (or “discernment” as my Christian upbringing might describe it) are severely lacking, and that someday people will find out that I’m really below average and suddenly I’ll be considered a stupid, senseless girl to brush aside as entirely unreliable or unimportant. I cherish all the times mentors and peers have told me how thoughtful I am, how smart I am, how deep-thinking and meditative and discerning and intuitive I am. I have spent many years using those compliments to fight off my inner abuser who tells me that a graphic designer who grew up as a conservative Christian and doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree can’t possibly understand or contribute to the world in any sort of meaningful way and must always defer to experts and authorities outside of her own self.

Recently, I stumbled across the amazing blog of formerly-conservative-Christian-but-currently-atheist-activist-philosopher Dan Fincke. I’ve been absolutely delighted to find his writing and have been taking every opportunity to find quiet moments in which to immerse myself in his deconversion story and his philosophy of life. It’s been exciting, freeing, validating — it’s provided me with a sense of kinship that I haven’t felt for quite some time.

After finding his blog, I immediately followed him on Twitter & Facebook, and he (being a friendly guy) asked me how I deconverted.

I was immediately stricken, to be honest. Dan is a hella smart person. He knows what he thinks about things and is able to articulate those thoughts intelligently and convincingly. And if you read the comments he gets on his pieces…every time I try to wade into the comment stream, I find myself quickly in over my head, if I wasn’t already over my head throughout his post.

Through no fault of Dan’s at all, his question brought up all my insecurities of not being smart enough. Suddenly, I’m back in that lobby on that campground, and instead of my friend asking me my SAT scores, the agnostic atheist community is asking me for my street cred.

Which I know is completely ridiculous (and not an accurate representation at all of the question Dan asked of me, nor of his intention in asking). Anxiety is a bitch and it takes all my worst fears and puts the faces of people I deeply admire and from whom I desperately crave approval and voices my fears through their distorted mouths in my brain, and it sucks.

The reason I don’t have a concrete answer to how I deconverted is that I feel like I still am deconverting, that it’s a process I’ll go through for many years. But the turning point (I wouldn’t say the starting point) is that I couldn’t manufacture belief anymore, despite spending my whole life up until that point fully dedicated to Christ. I had to let it go in order to preserve my intellectual integrity.

But then jerkbrain jumps in and tells me that I’m neither a philosopher not a scientist. That I can’t defend my lack of belief in the Christian God, let alone my lack of belief in any god. That I can’t possibly think and parse out for myself what to believe. There’s a tiny bit of truth there, in that I don’t have the words, the correct terms — I just have feelings, intuitions. Things that can’t possibly hold up in the courtroom of my abusive brain, nor do I feel like they’re sufficient answers for people from whom I crave acceptance.

I think both of these things are in part a by-product of being raised in Christianity, however. This compulsive need to second-guess everything about myself, this insistent belief that I have to be able to explain every decision and belief I hold, and that I require an authority figure of some kind to bless my conclusions and my life itself.

I was taught that I was untrustworthy and easily deceived, by nature of having a heart and being a woman, so is it any wonder that I constantly second-guess myself? I always had to “be ready to give an account” of my beliefs. One thing the Plymouth Brethren are very insistent about is that Christians ought to be able to back up their entire lives with Scripture (plus the leading of the Holy Spirit that apparently can never contradict their interpretation of Scripture or the leading of the elders of the assembly). If I was able to do and say and believe the right things and explain why using the Bible and assembly precedent, then I would be pleasing to God and to the spiritual authorities He supposedly placed in my life. So is it any wonder that I desperately seek to justify my life and beliefs through the opinions of assumed authority figures for their express approval of my very being?

That entire way of living (and arguably all manifestations of religion) by its very nature is nothing more than an appeal to authority. An appeal to an authority that, I discovered last summer, only holds as much power as an “unbeliever’s” lack of belief grants it.

There’s so much uncertainty here, outside of religious belief. Where I used to be able to comfort myself with “be still and know that [He] is God,” there is now no such comfort. (If I believed that particular god existed, I wouldn’t find much comfort in the thought anymore anyway.) Just as I was ashamed of my SAT score sitting in that lobby with my super-smart friends, I’m often ashamed by how much I don’t know about the world I live in and how I want to interact with it.


I’m learning to trust myself.

I don’t have all the answers. (I’m not sure there are answers to be had, honestly.) I can’t adequately explain why I no longer have faith, and in some instance I can’t even explain what exactly I believe now. But that’s okay. I’m learning that I don’t need anyone’s permission or blessing in my life for my beliefs, and that it’s okay to continue to learn and form beliefs. Instead, in the words of a Twitter friend, my mantra can now be, “Be calm, and discover that you are strong.”

I don't want to be

Love is hard work.

I don't want to be

From vavva_92 on Flickr. Click image for original.

Content note: talk of self-harm, sexual assault, suicide.

I used to be a songwriter. Or at the least, a writer of poems. Then I basically stopped for a long, long time. For some reason, though, lately I’ve been turning back to poetry to express some of my thoughts. So I share this with you all (though it was originally meant only for me, then put on Tumblr, but I think maybe I should share more personal things on here that might not be so polished). Continue reading

Acceptable Femininity: some rambling thoughts about gender roles, high heels, and makeup.

Lately, as I’ve been delving into what feels like a whole new world of heels and cardigans and makeup, I’ve been thinking about how my opinion of femininity has morphed throughout my admittedly short life. I’ve noticed a pattern, and I’d like to share it with you:

My acceptance or rejection of the feminine within myself and others is directly related to my acceptance or rejection of misogyny.

I do really want to stress that this is an introspective piece, and that what has held true in my life absolutely doesn’t hold true for others. After all, I’m speaking as a white cisgender woman* — I wouldn’t dream of imposing my experiences or conclusions for myself on others who have not lived my life.

*What this means is that I was assigned the gender of woman at birth, and I’m comfortable with that assignment. (For those for whom this concept is new, I suggest checking out Hank Green’s wonderful video on sexuality and gender that I’ve included here.)

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Still here, around the web.

Happy December!

My apologies for not writing more often over here. I’ve been keeping pretty busy with work and life in general, along with fighting a fresh battle with depression that has kind of been keeping me pretty focused on just getting through day-to-day life.

I have been writing here and there, however, and wanted to give you an update about some of that!

I wrote about my first experiences in a Halloween shop, along with describing my experience with Halloween up until now, over on my personal Tumblr:

Scary things — even things that were supposed to be scary for fun — were wrong. They made light of true evil, making it more palatable. They were representatives of the real demons, ghouls, witches, Satanists.

That was the horror — what I was taught either explicitly in ways that I can’t quite recall or implicitly from just believing in Christianity, was that those things were real. So representations of them were personally horrifying, and anyone who thought they were funny or totally fictional I deeply distrusted. After all, they were supporting true evil, so who knew what they were capable of?

My friend wrote an excellent piece about how to respond to someone who regularly deals with PTSD or anxiety attacks, and I contributed my own piece as well:

Keep in mind that this is pretty specific to me, and it’s taken me a year or so to figure out what exactly I need during these attacks. Your mileage may vary, whether you’re the one with PTSD or the one trying to help someone else. jaythenerdkid storified some other great ways to help someone who is having a panic attack(though her list doesn’t cover PTSD, and I’ve found that my PTSD episodes need to be handled differently than a panic attack…hence this post).

My old college, good old Bob Jones University, held a week of chapel services about a “biblical” view of homosexuality, and I did my best to scream about it as loudly as I could while pointing people to the wonderful organization that is BJUnity. I storified my screamings so if you missed it on Twitter, you can still read my take on the sermons.

I’ve also started a new side-blog called Plymouth Brethren Dropout. I want to provide a resource for others leaving the Plymouth Brethren movement to see assembly distinctives and theology and practices dissected in a critical, meaningful way. In the past few years, I’ve found a lot of support and healing through various forums and support groups pertaining to purity culture and Christian fundamentalism at large, but I’ve been unable to find such a place online that discusses the particulars of the open assemblies. So I decided, in the absence of such a place, I would create one. On that blog, I wrote about my journey from a very dedicated assembly girl to the liberal feminist I am today:

I thought of how often I heard preachers opine about how it was against nature and against God for a woman to have authority over a man, only to say in the next breath that the silent covered worship women offered during the Lord’s Supper was surely sweeter to God than the rumblings of the men. How often they repeated that the Bible was clear in its separate roles for men and women, but assured us that didn’t mean that we didn’t have an equal standing before God. How women who held careers rather than staying home were looked down upon for not fitting the ideal of the homemaker, and women who remained single beyond their 20′s were viewed as too strong-willed to be able to submit to a husband. The constant assurance that they held women in the highest respect, which was exactly why they had to rule over us for our own good. Yes. Benevolent sexism certainly fit the bill.

The more I learned about the systems of inequality in our culture, the more clearly I could see how the assemblies dehumanized and oppressed women — and I’d internalized it all

I’m also still running the Zeldathon tumblr, though that’s definitely taken a bit of a back-burner in the last month.

I hope you all are doing well, and I hope to be writing a bit more often in the weeks to come. Love to all.

The passing of a mentor.

Content note: mention of suicidal ideations.


One of my favourite art teachers of all time died yesterday evening after battling cancer for just over a year. I was fortunate to be able to communicate the following to him before he died, but I wanted to share with everyone else as a tribute to him.

Here’s to you, Michael Slattery, enthusiastic artist, kind-hearted soul, best of men.

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