Stay or leave?

By Phynnodderee

Not everyone who becomes disillusioned with the Christadelphian community decides to leave. I’d like to look at some of the reasons for staying and the reasons for going – and explain why leaving was the best decision I ever made.


Reasons for staying
There are several reasons why people might opt to stay in the community even after starting to have doubts or misgivings about the beliefs, the practices or the culture. Firstly, since many Christadelphians have relations far and wide throughout the community, family can be a very important consideration. The situation is especially sensitive when you have a Christadelphian spouse. Secondly, if you’re tempted to look for another church, there is the intimidating question “Where else would I go? Will I find another church that is both acceptable and accepting?”. Fear of the unknown or “Better the devil you know” can make it seem preferable to stay in the confines of a familiar environment, even if it’s making you unhappy. Thirdly, people who still basically hold Christadelphian beliefs but are dissatisfied with certain traditions or aspects of practice might choose to remain because they are happy enough to stay as long as they are tolerated (which might involve keeping quiet about certain things and avoiding controversial topics). Finally, and possibly least commonly, some people stay because they feel they have important work to do within the community and a desire to improve and reform it from within.

I’m not here to tell anyone that their reasons are right or wrong. But having left the Christadelphians myself and dealt with the ensuing adjustment process, I know the benefits. Here are some of them.

Authenticity
Continuing to live as a Christadelphian while being unconvinced by any of it sets up a tension because you are aware of living as if you believed one thing, when you actually believe something different. Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying: “Happiness is when what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony.” This is what I would describe as ‘living authentically’. There is an immense dignity and self-respect to be found in living on your own terms and in accordance with your own principles – striking out on your own and doing what you know to be the right thing, even in the face of disapproval. It can be hard, but the rewards are amazing. Money can’t buy that sense of dignity. But courage can.

Freedom
Once you have consciously and formally left the Christadelphians behind, your mind becomes your own. You are free to learn, think for yourself and form your own views without pressure to conform to a set of predetermined ideas, or the fear of criticism for reaching the ‘wrong’ conclusions. It’s possible you may never have experienced this intellectual freedom before. This might be a little scary, but it’s incredibly liberating. You are free to follow your own conscience without worrying about what the self-appointed law enforcers in the ecclesia would think. Above all, you’ll be free to become yourself, to discover your true identity and values. Owning your own mind is the most empowering thing a person can achieve. Claiming back my mind after leaving the Christadelphians was hard and painful, but it was the most worthwhile thing I ever did.

Letting go of unnecessary burdens
Letting go of Christadelphian beliefs freed me from a lot of guilt, self-hate and self-distrust. It also allowed me to let go of condemnation and distrust of others. I am no longer obliged to judge non-Christadelphians, because I know they’re just like me. I’m also free of the fear I used to feel. Fear of Christadelphian disapproval, fear of God’s disapproval, fear of never being good enough.

Making good use of your life
Consider the possibility that staying may absorb your life for little reward. I know a number of people who seem to be stuck in a groove, who turn up to the meeting every Sunday as a matter of habit and go through the motions like automatons. It’s hard to believe that this kind of routine offers any meaningful benefit to their lives. Years ago an elderly Christadelphian friend told me how he had done a lot of hard work for his ecclesia over the years, but felt he had never received much in return. This seemed very sad and left me wondering how common this situation is.

Hoping for change
Before I finally left, I spent a long time feeling frustrated at the slowness to change and the resistance to new ideas. Eventually I realised I could spend the rest of my life hoping for change that might never happen. In the meantime, I had a life to live. The Christadelphian community has had opportunities to change and respond better to the needs of its members, but by and large it hasn’t taken them – as some people have been lamenting for decades. Is it worth keeping something alive on life support that doesn’t deserve to continue?

Choosing
The decision has to be yours, but if you’re wavering and wondering if it’s worth it, I hope these thoughts will help. It’s true that leaving the Christadelphians behind was one of the most difficult and painful things I’ve ever done. Would I do it again?

YES.

9 comments:

  1. Whenever I read something like this or considering the nature of religious shackles, I am reminded of the famous “Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s Republic.

    You can’t escape from prison if you don’t know you’re in one!!

    If you have never read it before, do yourself a favour…

    https://web.stanford.edu/class/ihum40/cave.pdf

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    1. Thanks for the link, Brett, I had never heard of that allegory before. So relevant!

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  2. The pain of losing my beliefs was immense. I kept it a secret for a long time because I had to come to terms with life not being what I thought it was.
    Once I had adjusted to my new world view I thought about leaving but I just couldn't imagine going through with it. I didn't want to hurt those I loved and I was worried about how they would cope when they too realised that they had based their lives around beliefs that were suddenly so obviously based on mythology and tradition rather than anything tangible.
    So I just muddled along, attending just enough to avoid being a concern, nodding in agreement about the state of the world, signs of the times and so on.
    But I started getting anxiety during the meetings. It all seemed ridiculous and all the petty little things that I had managed to ignore, like dress codes, what version of bible was acceptable to read and so on were so frustrating. The Christadelphians seemed so self serving and stagnant, not contributing to society and I just couldn't take it any more,
    I tried to resign, but after a charade of letter writing and warning notices they withdrew fellowship from me. It was at that point that I realised I had been in a cult. I could only leave on their terms.
    The next surprise was the fact that those I loved shut me down every time I tried to explain why I didn't believe any more. I was expecting to share my experiences with them and imagined that the more intelligent ones would want to leave too. But if anything my 'falling away' reinforced their beliefs.
    It has been a painful and difficult process but I am so happy to be outside the Christadelphian bubble.

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    1. I can empathise with a lot of that, Geri. It must have been especially disappointing that those you loved were unwilling to talk about things. Maybe your leaving created an uncomfortable twinge of uncertainty and made them feel the need for certainty more? Thanks for commenting, you've probably summed up what a lot of us have felt/been through.

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  3. I know a couple of people personally who don't believe anymore, but stay in the CDs to avoid rocking the boat with their family and friends.
    One in particular seems to enjoy the social side of remaining, but just performs the bare minimum of attending the formal meetings. Maybe he has the best of both worlds, at the cost of his Sunday mornings?

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  4. Mark, "at the cost of his Sunday mornings?" and, maybe eventually at a cost to his mental health? All the constant subterfuge and pretending, singing hymns with words he doesn`t agree with? pressure to conform? My feeling is that there are many in the CD`s still floating in that same rudderless boat.

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  5. Mancott, maybe the thought of upsetting his family and friends outweighs the inconvenience of attending once a week and going through the motions to keep the ABs off his back.
    It wouldn't be healthy for me, you or many others, but it seems to work for him somehow. Plus, as I said above, he seems to enjoy the social aspect of the fraternals, ecclesial outings etc.

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  6. Mark, I guess we`re all different and cope with stressful situations in different ways, with various levels of success. I too quite enjoyed social intercourse with many of the CD`s with whom I came into contact, but it wasn`t enough to keep me in the fold. Fortunately, I still meet with some (few), and our polarised viewpoints don`t affect our friendly socialising. Maybe this works because we avoid talking about our widely separated viewpoints, and don`t try to "convert" each other, which some CD`s seem to be incapable of, and insert their desire to get you back into every conversation.

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  7. Yes, I still see a number of CDs and many are still good company to be in.
    However, two in particular are seemingly incapable of making conversation without constantly referring to the CD way of life and asking me to return. Everytime I try to talk about the mundanities of everyday life/work/kids, within 30 seconds the conversation is deftly steered back to the CD viewpoint. These are the CDs so immersed in the cult that they don't know how to make normal conversation with sane people.

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