One of the things I experienced when I left the church was moral confusion.
I think this is something to be expected during the deconstruction of our religion, beliefs or faith.
Like I’ve said before, for the first year after leaving the ministry and the church I was numb. Frozen. I thought I was doing great, but looking back I obviously wasn’t.
Then, as I thawed over the next two years, this became a time of very intense moral confusion. I drank more than usual, wanted to smoke and sometimes did, thought about trying pot but didn’t, increased my swearing vocabulary and frequency of use, dared to get really angry at people and tell them exactly what I thought, and outright avoided people in the grocery store or whatever.
Ya! I know. Small potatoes. These things are meaningless to me now. Not at the time though.
So here are some big potatoes. I’m going to be as candid as I dare. I also got very confused about my marriage and family and home and even myself. I felt trapped and I wanted to cast off all restraint. All of it! I’m not joking– this was one of the most traumatic times in my life, in our marriage, for my family (because my kids knew what was going on) and the few friends we had left. I couldn’t understand this strange and unfamiliar powerful drive within me that just wanted to run away from everything! I wanted out! Our of every responsibility. Every commitment. Every union. Every expectation. Even my own personality. Everything! I didn’t care! Even when Lisa was crying, I felt nothing. Even when she left those few times, I felt nothing. When I think back to the pain I was in and the pain I caused I still get very emotional about it.
You know what this sounds like, right? Adolescence. In many ways many of us are unprepared for the real world. It’s not our fault. We just haven’t been given the proper tools to grow up yet.
There are stages of moral development. I haven’t looked these up. These are mine:
- infantile: fear of punishment
- childish: fear of rejection
- adolescent: fear of limitations
- adult: fear of betraying our conscience
- mature adult: fear of harming humanity
“Fear” isn’t the best word, especially as we mature, but you get the point. Also, at some point the law, which is external to us as infants and children, endeavors to becomeinternal as we mature so that it becomes a part of our own moral fiber. We develop moral integrity and a mature conscience. We aren’t good because we must but because we desire it.
I think the church is excellent at fostering infantile and childish stages of moral development. But, and I speak generally, it sucks at helping us break free of the external law to learn how to internalize what is right and good and integrate this with our consciences.
Now, some people mosey along with no spikes in aberrant behavior. They just gently develop like the unfolding of a rose in the morning dew of a sunrise.
Not me. And not like some of you. I’ve always had to test my boundaries.
Like an emotionally adolescent kid going off to college, I employed the good old pendulum swing. You too? We act out. We experiment. We go overboard. We break all the rules that restricted us before. We alarm not only those around us, but even ourselves. We can actually become reckless and careless and hurt others. And if you’re anything like me, there’s something about all this that makes you just not care.
Lisa and I talked about this quite a bit because she experienced this phenomena in her own way as well. We concluded that this happens because:
- We were never taught to become morally independent.
- We left the policing church community.
- No one was watching.
- There were no ramifications to our actions.
Basically, when we left the church and that whole culture, there was no one watchinghow we lived, and there would be no serious consequences to our actions, such as shaming, shunning, excommunication, or me losing my job as a pastor. That was all behind us. It was a strange and scary feeling realizing that I could, say, leave Lisa, and no one in my new world would even bat an eye.
It took a couple of years, but finally that which was morally important to me percolated down into my deepest self. What I valued most became internalized and eventually integrated itself with my inner life. And just in the nick of time.
There were plenty of people telling me to “follow your heart” or “do what you want to do right now” or “just do what makes you happy”! I’m not sure why, but I didn’t follow their advice. I can’t say it was because I was strong. Maybe I was afraid. Or maybe something kept me. I just don’t know. I salute Lisa’s grace, patience, courage and candor with me. That is the first ingredient. I also thank my counselor who dragged me through brutal sessions of painful honesty. That’s the second ingredient. But why I didn’t trash everything I now value more than ever, I’m not entirely sure. That’s the secret recipe I haven’t figured out yet. I’m grateful though.
Also, you may come out the other side with a different morality than when you went in. It is quite amazing what the lack of community policing, monitoring and control can do to the liberated individual.
- Maybe I’m giving you the heads up that this might happen to you.
- Or maybe I’ve explained what has happened to you.
- Or maybe this is a promise that if you somehow find it in you to hold on, what you value most will integrate with who you truly are.
Peace on your path my friends!