If there is a God, he set me up for failure in the Christian world when he deemed it suitable that I be gay. Struggling with my sexuality in the church resulted in many well-intentioned people saying awful things to me. Now, I’ve left Christian belief behind and I’m a proud member of The Satanic Temple. Unsurprisingly, the comments haven’t stopped. I get called deceived, evil, damned, and much more on a regular basis.
I’m not going to complain about being called these things. I know what I take on as a public Satanist and queer person. Nor will I explain Satanism, or why I joined the infernal fold. Instead, I want to explore the skills I’ve developed over the years to respond compassionately to people who don’t understand.
We’ve all lashed out in anger and hurt against those who don’t understand us — I certainly have. But, I think it’s imperative to grow towards greater compassion and understanding, and to curtail that impulse towards rage. The following are my personal tools to do just that.
Understand that people are truly frightened for you.
Hell and Satan are very real to many Christian believers, so when I see people respond to me with fear for my salvation, I have to take their fear seriously. That does not mean assuming their fear is true, but instead that it is real, and causing them pain. When they tell me I’m deceived, damned, or express their great fear for my soul, I have to acknowledge just how real and frightening that is to them.
Many nontheists and atheists respond with derision towards these fears, but I have little patience for these responses. I think compassion is the only suitable response. I’ve felt that religious anguish myself, and I wish atheists expressed compassion to me in my hour of religious suffering.
The fear of evil and damnation has caused some of the greatest evil and hurt on this planet, and it is right to be angry at that harm. I am, too. But when I temper that anger with compassion for those afflicted by anxiety-inducing belief, I am more capable of having productive conversation that benefits everyone.
When people express fear for my soul, I usually thank them for their concern, but tell them that I first need to be convinced that there is a hell or God before I can take their concern seriously. I ask them, gently, if they can defend their claims of God or hell. I also offer to provide links to my writing and interviews, in case they want to learn more about where I am coming from.
Understand that people are truly frightened of you.
I often find it helpful to remember that I represent all the things I was once most terrified of as a Christian. I don’t believe in God or gods, I identify as a Satanist, and I live with a profoundly different moral code than that of conservative Christianity. It’s easy for me to forget, especially when surrounded by my other godless brethren, just how frightening and uncomfortable a person like me can be to the faithful. Understanding that I frighten people helps me establish some helpful rules.
Instead of being aggressive — approaching other people with my godlessness — I choose to practice radical hospitality. I know that I am too frightening to many religious people, so I give them their space. I instead try to create as hospitable a place as I can, so that those who do have questions can approach me. They can read my blog, listen to my podcast, or write me an email. My table will always be open, even as I know that many will find me too frightening to approach.
A little kindness goes a long way. When people offer to pray for me, I say thank you. When they give me religious gifts, the way my father recently gave my a crucifix from the Vatican blessed by the Pope, I accept the gift with thanks. When I’m in a religious space, I respect the rules of that space. If I want to receive respect, I must give it.
Redirect the conversation to more productive places.
When people respond to my Satanism, nontheism, or queerness with derision, damnation, or fear, I try to redirect the conversation. I tell them that I’m used to being told I’m deceived, that I know they think that, and I therefore don’t find that comment terribly helpful. Instead, is there a question they’d like me to answer? I offer some of my articles, if they are interested in learning more.
Amusingly, this almost always shuts the conversation down, proving that they didn’t really want answers or dialogue to begin with. As a parting word, I thank them for engaging and to always ask questions if they are curious.
Opt out when it gets too hard.
All of this sounds great, but the truth is that it can be terribly hard, especially when we already have full lives, jobs, bills, and insufficient sleep. I’ve gone through whole seasons when the Christian world was a source of too much pain — even the “nice” progressive Christians. Sometimes, you just have to opt out of the conversation, and go be with your own people.
There is also no expiration date on this opting out. Perhaps this isn’t your fight, and you’d rather not engage at all. It’s good that you know that about yourself. The fact that I regularly engage with the Christian world doesn’t mean that you have to. Ultimately, we are all doing the best we can with what life has given us. If there is one thing my journey as a queer Christian, to post-Christian, to Satanist has taught me, it is expansive trust and acceptance of other people.
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22 thoughts on “When People Tell You You’re Deceived, Damned, or Sinful”
You have a lot more patience with this sort of thing than I do.
While I appreciate the journey you have shared and can equate with some of the horrors, ( a word I do not use lightly ), you have experienced, I am unable to agree with your opening lines of this otherwise excellent article. The problem I have is that you begin by levelling Christianity and Church. Much of the Church – religion if you like – has little to do with the Christian Faith and/or Christian spirituality. I would go as far as saying that for large sectors of the Christian Church, the two hardly ever meet let alone share their roles in humanity and the wellbeing of the world.
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Br… Are you a Christian, and if you are, do you believe that those who are not will go to a literal hell of fire and eternal torment?
“literal hell of fire and eternal torment” – no, I do not, because there is no such place.
Whew!!! That was a close one. Lol.
Are you a Christian then?
A close what? I do not understand this comment. And yes, I am a Christian.
Just a joke. No hell, I’m not a Christian anymore. Won’t be going… Lol.
Coolio. Thx for answering whether you are Christian.
One, why the joke? Two, why the question regarding what faith I am part of? Three, what relevance is any of this to the topic at, hand?
Joke? Cuz I thought it was funny. Obviously, I failed. Me culpa.
What kind of Christian? Curious. No “trap” being set. Jeez, insecure much?
What relevance? None. I was just asking. You don’t have to answer if it upsets you to be asked. Cheers
May I then ask what particular denom or doctrinal persuasion of Christian you are?
Not insecure thank you – quite the opposite! I hang out my linen in public when I desire, not when someone else asks me to. End of discussion my friend, unless you have something to add that equates with the original article. As the expression goes in your part of the World, have a nice day!
I just read one of you blog posts. Something “Black and Bland”. Are you still Catholic or have you moved on to a different kind of Christianity that doesn’t sport the doctrine of hell as eternal torment?
If you are secure in your faith, and I have no issues taking your word, why the reluctance to answer a simple question?
Depends what you mean by Catholic ?
I was asking you… Now you want me to give you a definition? Lol. But I’m tired of your evasion. You’re obviously uncomfortable answering. I get it. I was uncomfortable for awhile after my deconversion as well. Cheers. And do remember: a question is not an attack, unless you are insecure of you answer.
Whoever you are, don’t be so judgmental. I am not evading, I am not uncomfortable, and I have not ‘deconverted’ from anything. Your assumptions are way out of kilter. Why you are obsessed with attempting to invade my privacy is quite beyond me. As you have found my blog, I would have thought there was enough information there. Please stop bothering me, because I don’t like blocking people.
Nope. Not uncomfortable or insecure at all. Lol. Block away if you feel you must. Have a wonderful day.
What kind of trolling is this. I am a Christian, full stop. I’m not sure my faith and spirituality is any of your business, not has any part in this discussion.
This is how this thread could have gone had you not been evasive or insecure or defensive or suspicious of my motives, which I tried over and over to say I had none…
“Are you a Christian, and if you are do you believe in a literal hell with eternal torment?”
Direct answer to a direct question… Honest and courteous:
“Yes, I’m a Christian, but no I don’t believe in a literal hell with eternal torment”
Which might have led to asking what particular denom or doctrinal persuasion you were, and maybe a discussion on how you feel that lines up with the bible, or how you view the bible and it’s errancy or inerrancy. Might have been an opportunity for discussion.
But no… You chose to make this thread what it became. You evading honest direct questions with no agenda or trap set for you. Just looking for honest and open discussion.
Regardless of what you say, you are still uncomfortable and insecure with your faith, or current stance as a Christian/Catholic. I hope you work that out. But don’t blame me for asking questions.
Just say: “sorry, if rather not say. ” And leave it there. It’s rude to speak with someone you don’t even know the way you spoke with me just today.
Again, self awareness will serve you well in your journey.
I can totally understand this post. Since deconcerting from Christianity 4yrs ago, those who once conversed in a great way with me, now see me as an enemy. Even when what I say agrees with what they are saying. Seems they feel the need to be overly defensive with the simplest questions, even when I assure them that there is no “Trap ” waiting. Even after years, I still have not fully come out to my closest friends that are still in the church. I’ve tried with a couple of them but it always ends the same… Name calling and condemnation to hell as an apostate without even listening to or considering my story or my experiences.
Overly defensive, insecure, uncomfortable at least with even discussing what led me out of the church.
When people are unwilling to give direct answers to direct questions that have no agenda or trap door? That’s the insecurity and fear that this post is talking about. That barrier built by religion and taking things so personally, that really weren’t intended as a personal attack at all. Just questions. Just asking. I hope the other Catholic brother who commented to you on the post realizes the reason he took issue is that he personalized your post as an attack on Christianity, when in reality… It was only part of your story and experience. He focused in on what offended him, or rather what he took offense in, rather than just considering… Your experience and how your story is perhaps ubiquitous among us who are no longer Christians. Thx for the post. I appreciate the honesty.
Please stop accusing people of something they are not doing. Your judgmental attitude does you no credit.
Self awareness dude. Self awareness. Lol.
Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated this article (and yeah, I really am this far behind on internet commenting :/). I’ve gotten some firsthand experience in being called these kinds of names this summer, and it’s been blindingly hard to know how to respond, so thanks for sharing your experience and your empathetic approach to handling such accusations.