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.
Love my work and want to support it? Please consider becoming a patron so I can continue to bring you interesting content every week. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss another podcast, blog post, or cat picture.