About three years ago, I had a very bad church experience. It colored how I thought about church for a long time after – that it was corrupt and imperfect, an entity that detracts from a person’s thriving spiritual life. However, I realized the other day that I have completely recovered from my anger towards all churches.

What was the thing that helped me?

Well, first of all, I finally attended a church that had an intelligent and thoughful pastor that saw how discouraged and beat up I was, and decided to spend the next year having lunch with me one day a week. His ability to listen and talk on an intellectual level with me and to approach difficult subjects with a non-religious attitude really helped me. He helped me to remember that there are people who lead churches who are ok after all, who have not gone over to the dark side, and who have not embraced the tenants of man-made religion (the spiritual leader is always right and not to be questioned, doubt is bad, deep study is to be discouraged, skepticism and criticism of doctrine is bad, etc.)

So to some degree, this man helped to restore my faith in the goodness of the church. But it seems another thing I did played an even larger role: I forgave everyone who hurt me in that bad experience. One day I brought to mind each person who was involved with the whole fiasco, and asked God to forgive them, and to release me from the anger I still felt towards them. I noticed very quickly that my anger went away. Now about 3 months after that exercise, I’ve noticed that my anger is completely gone. I can think about the people involved and have no twinge of disgust or anger. Amazing.

There seems to be two kinds of anger – good anger and selfish anger. Selfish anger in my case took the form of bitterness. I often stayed up late at night tossing and turning, fantasizing about mock angry arguments I would have with these people if I ever saw them again. Looking back and seeing how quickly I recovered when I decided to forgive them, it struck me how amazing it was that it took 3 years to heal from this. I wasted 3 years of my life to learn this lesson. I could have done so much more with that time.

I wanted to encourage everyone out there reading this, especially those who have been really hurt by being part of a bad religious group. You have to forgive those who hurt you. It’s the most integral part of recovering from what I’ve heard called “spiritual abuse.”

For those of you who are prone to be intellectual, not forgiving is even more damaging. Since you are consumed with trying to find truth about every aspect of life using the tools of reason and logic, being bitter will cause you to be irrational or illogical about the things in life you are bitter about. Sadly, these are the things you want to intellectualize about the most.

Why was I wrong in my intellectual pursuits about the church? Because in my experience, lived life and life experiences are what dictate my worldview. This is a terrible blow to my pride to admit this, but I think it is true. Philosophy, reason, and logic are tools we use to refine a worldview, but I would say will never completely change it. I am a Christian, not because it made rational and intellectual sense in a controlled enviornment of looking at the facts, but because I was raised unusually well by highly intelligent, laid back Christian parents, in an intelligent, laid back Christian community that raised me very well, and I loved them all dearly. Then God introduced Himself to me one morning in addition to all that.

So my Christian world view has been constructed for me, mostly because of my enviornment and experiences, and probably to some small degree from my desire to fight my selfish nature. But what happens when lived life and life experiences turn bad? Depending on how painful or gradual the experiences are, I am slowly drawn or swept away into a different system of beliefs that I did not have before. Because I have been hurt by the church, I am drawn towards people and ideas that revolve around the church being bad, because I want to hear that stuff and be around people that have been hurt like me because they understand me. In no way was I drawn to this though logic and reason, but though a life experience. Whether the church in reality is bad or good does not matter, all that matters is that my beliefs are controlled mostly by my life experiences.

So how does the intellectual person use his/her intellect to find real truth in the world, despite the seemingly irresistible pulls (subtle or overt) on your worldview and belief system? For me, it was forgiveness to realize that not all churches are bad. But for you? How amidst the onslaught of life and its painful and joyful experience can we find and cling to reality? How can we know what is real or not if our beliefs are so easily swayed regardless of our impressive belt of intellectual tools? How can we live life and not be overcome with pain and not succumb to beliefs that tickle our ears because we are angry? How in our joy and excitement can we not fall into a similar trap? How can we be safe from being so easily swayed?

    One Response to “Forgiveness”

    1. pingback:
      Truth and Purpose» Blog Archive » Aftermath of anger

      […] as I mentioned in an earlier post on forgiveness, my anger has run its course. It has now been 3-4 years or so since my encounters with bad religion […]

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