I was born again as a Christian at the age of 8. I spent the majority of my life as a faithful Christian. Well, whatever faithful meant at any given time I suppose. It was mostly fear of burning in hell and arrogant belief that I was going to heaven and everyone ELSE was going to hell. Or following the moral rules for a Christian life according to my pre-selected by parents denomination… except when I didn’t.
It wasn’t until my mid 30’s that I repented, though.
There is a lot of talk of repentance in religion. To turn away from ones path, to give up your “sins” and follow the right way. In the case of Evangelical Christianity, like I was raised in, it meant grovelling before an all loving God that would burn us for eternity if we didn’t repent. Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t masturbate… the usual litany of rules.
OK, I won’t masturbate and will preach at gay people please don’t stir fry me.
(I totally masturbated though.)
My brand of Christianity wasn’t very noble. It was judgmental, and an enemy to the LGBTQIA communities. We didn’t walk around With ironically rainbow-colored hate signs like Westboro Baptist, but we sure were an intolerant bunch. Fortunately it wasn’t a church that did door knocking or street preaching, but if anyone wandered in to our fortress of godliness we knew exactly what to do.
We are beating the love of Jesus in to you. It’s for your own good.
I’m not going to go through the length of what occurred in my life and how I came to abandon the religion and indoctrination I grew up with. This piece isn’t about that. But yes, I became an atheist.
I still hadn’t repented yet.
Fast forward through the mostly tedious details of my life, and you find me with a new twitter account, and a chip on my shoulder. The Angry Atheist(patent pending) phase of my life. Thank No-god that it didn’t last THAT long. I was as big a prick as a new atheist as I was as a bible thumping fundamentalist. Maybe even worse. I actually sought people out to berate. (Note, this is not meant to be an indictment of people of faith. Some of the kindest, most humanist people I know are people of faith, and I’ll have words with anyone who speaks otherwise.)
I still hadn’t repented yet.
And then I came in to contact with them. who is them? The people on twitter who aren’t locked in to specific dogmas, but get this, weren’t a giant douchecanoe about it. It opened up a world to me. I started to repent.
What do you mean started to? You may ask. Started to is being used because despite the event-like context it’s always used in, it’s not. It’s an ongoing and never-ending process. I will not live to see the end of my repentance. And that’s ok. It’s the consistent LISTENING to other people, caring about them, and not judging based on ingrained prejudices. It’s discarding bad beliefs one by one. And no, you can’t say “ok, I’m not racist now. I’m not homophobic now. I’m not transphobic now.” It’s not as simple as the Jesus version of repentance where you can just say “oops” and then you’re in the clear. You need to self examine continually with each thing you learn. And then unlearn the things that simply aren’t true.
I threw out Transphobia. That means I’m woke, right? No Jerry. That’s not how it works.
One of the side effects of repenting is the tendency to berate yourself over what you have been up until that point. It’s understandable, and even necessary to regret actions, words and attitudes that are bigoted and harmful. If you’re like me and struggle with PTSD and Anxiety, it can be even more of a kick in the gut. But repentance also means freedom and forgiveness. Not the “Ok, I’ve been forgiven for everything, so I’m good” kind of freedom.
The freedom to release yourself from the hatred you feel for yourself for what you were. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to seek forgiveness of people you may have harmed. That’s a whole different thing, and if you’re genuine about changing who you are, it’s something you really need to do.
It also has another side effect. You get to release yourself from the self-loathing of things about YOURSELF that you have considered wrong or “sinful” that really aren’t. Regret that you didn’t follow what Mom and Dad wanted for your life? Let it go. Have a hangup about something you’ve hidden most of your life? Let it go.
I don’t say let it go like it’s an easy process. You will struggle with guilt over people you have hurt, and will continue to have episodes of self-loathing for things that you’ve never been wrong about. Let me give a personal example. I have been polyamorous all my life. Well, as long as I was cognizant of loving other people. But to me, it was sin. So I begged forgiveness over and over for something that was never wrong. I entered into only monogamous relationships, but felt guilty when I inevitably had strong feelings for other people. No, I’m not talking about checking out a woman walking by. I mean feeling real, deep love for people who I had developed feelings for.
I am free of that burden now. I now know that what I AM is not something to be ashamed of. I have sought forgiveness of anyone that I knowingly wronged, and also know that I cannot do so for the people who I don’t know I wronged.
I am repenting. And I intend to never stop.
Repenting is done on your feet. Not on your knees.