When Religion is so Suffocating and Controlling that the Healthy Option is to Leave

Religion is often described as an affirming belief system that helps people in their life. The question must be asked, what do you do when it is controlling, destructive and harmful? Some of this I learned in a faith crisis years ago. But what do you do when religion harms and leaves hubris? For your mental and physical health you leave and walk away.  

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

George Orwell 

“We hope all danger may be overcome; but to conclude that no danger may ever arise would itself be extremely dangerous.

Abraham Lincoln     

C.J. Mahaney from Sovereign Grace Ministries 

This post is the second one about people who walk away from religion. Back in December research by two atheists in the United Kingdom revealed why people left religion. You can read the first post in, “A Three Day Series at The Wondering Eagle: Why Atheists Walk Away From Faith, And how They Find Freedom and Hardship in the Process.” Then I wrote about the problem of evil which is one the main reasons people reject God. Your can read about that in, “Why the Problem of Evil is the Best Reason for Rejecting God.”


When Religion is Suffocating and Destructive

Here is a question that I want to pose for people to think about. What do you do when religion is suffocating and controlling? What do you do when religion is destructive? When religion is destroying people in the same way alcohol and drugs then what do you do? Many people are taught to think of religion as a positive or an improvement to life. But what happens if the exact opposite happens?

What do you do when you want to date but you feel guilty about it because of how fundamentalism poisons people’s thinking? What do you do when religion makes you afraid of the opposite sex? What do you do when you were in a system that taught so much about purity it discouraged dating and more? What do you do when you can’t perform sexually because you are so guilted by shame? What do you do when people are so repressed that they go wild on alcohol and drugs in an effort to make up for years of repressed living? What do you do when you dedicate your life to the Lord and you sacrifice greatly and you learn  your church is covering up sex abuse? That you were part of a cult?  What do you do when people who lead it don’t believe in the “faith” like they taught you? What do you do when religion has destroyed the relationship you had with your parents and family? What do you do when religion leads to the destruction of a loved one? For example someone you know has mental health issues and the church discourages mental health treatment and that person’s mental illness gets worse? What do you when people become suicidal over spiritual abuse? What do you do in many of the circumstances that I mentioned above? 


When its Hostile to Intellectualism and Science 

In regards to evangelicalism what do you do when you are so boxed in by a repressive system that it stifles creativity, intellectualism, and learning? What do you do when it drains the life and meaning out of it? What do you do when a pastor teaches that it is a thought crime to inquire about science and education? What do you do when independent reading is discouraged? What do you do when a young mind is squashed and prevented from being inquisitive as its told that a literal six day creationism is just how it is?  What do you do when people are taught to create their own mental prisons? What do you do when a person’s life is over in their teenage years because of what fundamentalism teaches people? What do you do in those above circumstances? 


When Religion Leaves Destroyed Lives in its Wake

Let’s be honest religion destroys many lives. Many people don’t want to talk about this issue and its one of the themes I keep coming back to in many ways. When Josh Harris walked away from evangelicalism I remember a comment he made in one of the many articles about that situation. He recalled a note he received from a man in his 40’s. He was in his marriage and he couldn’t sexually perform because of all the guilt that came from Harris’ purity teaching. In other words the guy couldn’t get an erection because of shame from what he was taught twenty years previously. Some people will say well go get counseling but lets be honest for many people counseling may not work. There are so many stories of cult like fundamentalist churches. Mars Hill in Seattle, Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, Sovereign Grace Ministries in the Washington, D.C. On and on it goes. People age and the scars often remain and carry forward into their adulthood and elderly years. But religion leaves many destroyed lives in its wake. 


The Benefits of Leaving Are Many 

When I had my faith crisis years ago I too left religion for several years. For me evangelicalism felt suffocating. I didn’t see much of any purpose to its claims and saw how controlling it could be. My faith crisis forced me away from it and in that faith crisis I found freedom from a harsh belief system. When I left I found intellectual freedom more openness to science and a time in life to learn more about myself. That wouldn’t have happened in the belief system I was in. For many people, denominations, churches and pastors religion is about control. So when that study in the United Kingdom looked at the freedom that some people found when they pushed away from religion there is a lot of truth in that context. 

My advice to you when religion is destructive is to leave. Here is a question for you to think about…if religion is destroying your life and leaving it runs the risk of going to hell and losing your salvation (as some do believe) then why would you worship God anyway? I understand that this post will be difficult for many but its being written to express a point of view that many people do not want to openly talk about. 

One thought on “When Religion is so Suffocating and Controlling that the Healthy Option is to Leave

  1. People who are thinking about leaving religion often feel very alone, like they are the only one who ever felt that way. The churches work very hard to reinforce this isolation, it’s one of the ways they keep people in. But there are resources for people who are leaving, or just thinking about it. A good one is the Recovering from Religion Hotline (1-844-I Doubt It) to reach a volunteer who can connect you with other resources, or just provide a compassionate and non-judgmental listening ear.

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