Have you ever wanted to ask a question in your religious environment, but felt you couldn’t because you knew something would be at stake if you did? Maybe you’ve thought…
“What if I investigate my worldview and find out that it doesn’t hold up?”
“I’ve been told in my religious group that asking questions is a sign that I’m not one of God’s chosen people. I shouldn’t need to ask questions. ‘Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith’ is our mantra. I should just believe. So, the sheer act of investigating alone could mean that I’ve lost my salvation. Is the risk worth it?”
“If I have to ask questions, then I won’t be viewed as being as spiritually attuned as my friends who don’t ask questions. Am I okay with feeling inferior?”
“I’m afraid because whatever I find out will have consequences and I’ll have to deal with those consequences. If I find out that what I believe is true, then I’ll have to deal with the things I don’t like about my current situation. If I find out what I believe is not true, then I will be facing countless losses and change. Is ignorance bliss?”
“If something is true, then questions shouldn’t be scary. Your worldview should hold up to scrutiny.” –Lemon
In unhealthy religious groups, the leadership views questions as threatening to their power and authority. This makes the questioner a threat, which puts them on the group’s poop list. Once on that list, it can be near impossible to get off of it. You'll find yourself striving endlessly for a mere human’s good graces, like your very breath depends on getting their approval.
But their goal is for you to shut up, to fall in line, to conform, and to help fulfill the leadership’s agenda. Only blind obedience will be met with the affirming "nod in your direction" that you've been seeking. If you don’t obey, not only is your value and usefulness to the group diminished, but now you’re a problem. You could infect others with your ideas and cause a revolution.
Does this sound familiar?
To some degree, does this describe your church's culture?
If you’re unsure, we recommend asking yourself: How are questions handled by my spiritual leaders?
Is my church a safe place for questions? Are my curiosities welcomed? Am I given good answers that are supported by evidence?
Side note: If you’re asking a good question in a religiously abusive environment, and you get shut down, it’s because they don’t have a good answer, but are too prideful and too focused on their persona to admit it. You and your question are not the problem. In a healthy environment, leadership will have humility and be able to say, “I’m not sure, but let’s try to find out.” Their pride won’t get injured by their own knowledge that they're unsure of the answer. They’ll be comfortable with the reality that they don’t know everything.
Leadership has a responsibility to encourage us and to assist us in investigating our worldviews.
In return, we have a responsibility to actually do it. If we don’t, we’re at greater risk of becoming involved in an abusive or cultic group because we aren’t equipped to recognize the red flags. Or, we could tragically find ourselves being revictimized a second or third time if we didn’t become more educated after our first spiritually traumatic experience.
Therefore, it’s for your safety and your protection to investigate and study your worldview. If you don’t, then you could be told anything and potentially believe it. Your life could be dictated in a way that you never would have chosen. You may wake up one day and realize it was all a fraud and you never actually had to live under the harsh rules and schedule requirements you suffered. That realization is an awful experience…we know.
But please, don't just take our word for it. What does God say about investigating your faith?
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
If God is real, you’ll find Him. So seek Him. Look for Him. Investigate if He’s really there. He has invited us to do so and has promised to show Himself when our hearts are genuine!
“..and with all your mind.” You cannot love God with all your mind when you cannot ask questions to get to know Him. You have to know someone to love them with your mind. To be inhibited from getting to know someone you're supposed to love simply doesn't make sense.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
A Christian’s hope is in Christ. In order to be prepared to talk about Him, we need to know Him. To understand Him as best we can. Peter isn’t telling us to blindly follow and obey, and neither were Jesus or Jeremiah. Anyone telling you differently has, at best, misunderstood scripture, or at worst, is manipulating and exploiting you.
“There are people who are coming across like they’re wonderful, like they have so much to give, and they have such good hearts, and they just want to serve. But, in reality, they don’t, they want to eat you up and spit you out. They want to take advantage for their own personal gain. They have an agenda. They have something they want and they want to exploit you in one way or another to get it met." –Naomi
If you’re reading this and thinking, “This resonates on a deeply personal level. I think I may be in a religiously abusive situation”, here are some next steps to consider:
Ask yourself: What would it mean for me if I discover my group is causing spiritual trauma? What is the best and worst case scenario?
In light of #1, ask yourself: Do I want to do this? Do I want to start searching, no matter what I find?
Consider: What is your "why" for taking on this investigation? Is it because you hold the truth at the highest value? Is it because you’re concerned about others and their futures if they stay? This is an important question to answer, because investigating your religious view is a choice. We highly recommend writing your answer down. Reading your "why" and reminding yourself of your motivator will help you on those really tough days when you're overwhelmed by it all.
Check in with yourself regularly during this journey. Ask: How am I doing? Am I getting the support that I need? If not, what options do I have for positioning myself in a healthier place?
Please know: There are future friends and loved ones out there waiting for you, if and when you’re ready remove yourself from an unhealthy situation. They won't replace anyone who has been lost. This is a painful truth that we will never minimize or sugarcoat. Yet, beginning to connect with outside supports can help hold you up during the hardest times in this process. It’s okay to be afraid of that next step. It's normal, understandable, and relatable. We’re here to help you.
Once you see the truth, you can’t unsee it. But we think seeing the truth is worth it.
We found a real God, with real, unimaginable love.
We found forgiveness, strength, and peace.
We found all of these gifts that we never really knew in our unhealthy religious environments, even though we thought we did–the reality is that what we thought were these good things were disappointing fakes being peddled by scammers.
Getting to know God for real was worth overcoming every fear and grieving every loss, because He is amazing, and an authentic life with Him is priceless.
*Hear more of this conversation on our podcast, Reclamation: An NWM Initiative. You can find this episode here, or look us up wherever you prefer to stream.