DC Talk: Teens, Sex, Worship, and Guilt

It feels very weird to listen to worship music now.

For those of you who have never been deep into Christianity, you need to understand that for the Christian, the religious aspect is often based on a relationship with a person, Jesus. That means that the things they do and the reasons they do them are not as simple as what makes sense or what the teachings of Christianity are. They have an obligation to what they believe to be a real person. This person, Jesus, thinks about them with love and desires them to have a close relationship with him. Much of their time is spent contemplating his nature, admiring his qualities, and talking to him. Their moral life direction is as much focused on his person as it is the Bible. The do’s and don’ts take on extra sharpness, because Jesus pays individual attention to what they do and neglect to do. He is emotionally impacted, being encouraged by obedience and saddened by disobedience, according to some theologies.

I strongly believe that for Christians whose religion works on this, leaving Christianity has a much more profound psychological impact and difficulty level. It’s not just changing your mind about your worldview, which is a massive event to begin with. It’s ending a relationship with Jesus. While the blow is somewhat softened by the thought he was never there to begin with, it doesn’t change the fact that for years you lived your life following, praying to, worshiping, and being in love with an invisible powerful being who loved you right back. Losing a person you loved that much is painful, even with the realization he mostly lived in your head. The stronger a Christian you were, the more your deconversion is filled with mournful echos of a love that is now gone.

I had a childhood that was punctuated with Bible lessons from VBS and sporadic Sunday School attendance, but my real ‘relationship with Jesus’ started in my teens. I made a commitment to read the Bible through, prayed a lot, and really threw myself into ministry and volunteer work. I started listening to Christian music and attending church at least twice a week. I saw my life as something where all things were supposed to be influenced by my religion, and my new, older, thinking self absorbed much of this with gusto. I’d always been a kid who liked to please people, get along with them and encourage them to get along. A large part of this was following the rules and doing things well. I enjoyed impressing other people, especially the adults in charge. So Christianity sunk in well and deep with me. A lot of my life was spent pondering who Jesus was and what he wanted me to do. Worship music was a time of reflection and connection with Jesus.

If you were a Christian teen in the nineties, you know DC Talk. If you were like me, it was your favorite band. This week the author of Dumbing of Age posted some DC Talk videos on his tumblr, and it brought up a lot of hard memories. Music is a huge emotional memory trigger for me. Despite being devoid of musical talent, I’ve always connected strongly with music. Christianity is full of emotional worship songs, with the purpose of connecting us with God and Jesus, giving them praise. So I didn’t actually listen to “In the Light” again. It reverberates through my head anyway, with the thousands of listenings overcoming time and space. I did look up the lyrics to post here.

“In The Light”
(originally by Charlie Peacock)

(1, 2, 3)I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I’ve got one for every selfish thing I doWhat’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior[chorus]
I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the LightThe disease of self runs through my blood
It’s a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control

Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior

[repeat chorus]

Honesty becomes me
(There’s nothing left to lose)
The secrets that did run me
(In Your presence are defused)
Pride has no position
(And riches have no worth)
The fame that once did cover me
(Has been sentenced to this Earth)
Has been sentenced to this Earth

Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior

[repeat chorus 2x]

(There’s no other place that I want to be)
(No other place that I can see)
(A place to be that’s just right)
(Someday I’m gonna be in the Light)
(You are in the Light)
(That’s where I need to be)
(That’s right where I need to be)

The Dumbing of Age author, David Willis, summed it us aptly:

Here you guys go.  My favorite dc Talk song from when I was a teenager.  It’s an upbeat, catchy tune about how you are innately awful and fixing this is outside of your control because of how innately awful you are, no matter how much you want to stop being a garbage person

stop touching yourself

Did you hear that? Nope, because this is a blog post, but I’ll translate: that was the sound of me being punched in the emotional guts by that little truthful wallop. I’m even a bit shaky writing this now.  The other exchristians I’ve talked to have suffered through the same thing: to overcome the way these poisonous worldviews hurt us through our teenage and adult lives. That deep worship of Jesus comes with a price: a hatred of yourself and your desires. Christian teens are taught this is healthy and good, to feel ashamed whenever you have sexual feelings outside of marriage. You shouldn’t even want those things. You should want Jesus’s love and approval so much that those other feelings just fade into nothingness. Acting on those feelings is tainting yourself. Your virginity is a virtue that should be honored above all! Not being a virgin will lead to guilt and shame for the rest of your life, and will poison your marriage. Phew! That was just my straight, cis, experience, I am certain my friends who dealt with gay, asexual, and transsexual feelings had many other terrible variations on this theme as well.

One could argue that the song didn’t specifically mention sexuality, but there’s no doubt in my mind the connection is solid. Sexuality was a subject brought up frequently in Christian gatherings attended by teens, sometimes very explicitly studied for extended periods. DC Talk’s audience was full of teens. Sexuality was meant to be included in that meaning at the very least, but more likely it’s the main meaning. How many teens and young adult Christians deeply struggled with the desire to rob the store, be jealous of your friend’s car, murder your teacher, or any of the other ‘don’ts’ of Christianity? Not many. But almost everyone I know struggled with sexuality.

Every Christian peer I’ve talked to experienced the emerging of their sexuality as a time of guilt, confusion, and general mess. I won’t share my own journey because it included several other people whose permission I lack to share the stories, but I look back on it with many regrets and a wish I could have grown up in a culture with a healthy view of sexuality. I wish I had been more educated about many, many things. Issues resulting from growing into adulthood that have been experienced by myself and friends Christian culture include: fear and anxiety in their adult sexuality, long-term guilt over normal behavior and desires, confusion over their own body, inability to communicate needs and desires, guilt over having needs and desires, fear of sexual desires and acts, mental health disorders of several kinds, much depression, and a huge delay in understanding the personal sexual self. Guilt has a hugely harmful effect on us as people.

The redemption message is that if you confess, your sin is forgiven and forgotten. However, when they lump thoughts about sexuality into sin, most teens are stuck in a never-ending cycle of ‘sinning’ and no matter how many times you confess and repent, the sexual thoughts are going to come back. You will feel like you are shit, and wonder what’s wrong with you that you can’t stop sinning. If confessing, repenting, and forgiveness works for everyone else, why isn’t it working for you? Are you worse than other people? For an ever deeper hurt, the continual knowledge that you are hurting a person, Jesus, with your sin. He is disappointed in your disobedience. This sin is driving a wedge in what could be a wonderful relationship. It’s all your fault Jesus had to die on the cross. Your sin means your best friend, an innocent man, had to be tortured.

I want to particularly emphasize here that I am not even close to talking about particular actions being appropriate or inappropriate for teens or anyone else. My point is that the practice of teaching that any sexual thoughts or actions are sin is wrecking people. It is leading them into adult life lacking healthy skills of thinking about themselves and life, the information about their sexuality to make healthy adult choices, and the ability to think about what they are doing in a logical, educated manner.

So, you are a teen, you will have thoughts about sex, which your religion told you was terrible sin. Take that and try to think that Jesus will make it all better. No, even further, Jesus actually completes you, you are not complete on your own. Even further: without Jesus, you are a wretched murderer, filthy pervert, thief, blasphemer, corrupt and vile. Even further: you actually are still those things even if you are a Christian, it’s just that somehow Jesus stops you from doing all that stuff.

But the actual reality: no matter how much the teen prays, or read their Bible, confesses and repents, they will still have sexual thoughts. Here, the teen is stuck. They have been taught a better relationship with Jesus is the answer. Except it doesn’t solve it, or even deal with it in a significant way. Thus Christian culture creates this awful endless cycle, where the teens are trying to solve an unavoidable problem with a solution that continues to fail them. They’re terrified to try anything different because if anything is scarier than their own sin, it’s the darkness of secular thought and culture. That way leads to teen pregnancy, STDs, prostitution, homosexuality, and a slew of other perversions! Fear and guilt get bound up with becoming a sexual being.

I went through thousands of Bible studies, youth groups, college classes, meetings, and heard all of this. I trusted the adults in my life to teach me the truth. But this dilemma persisted and there was no solution. I understood fully the teachings of the Bible and yet I saw myself and others I cared for be dragged down by this. It was so awful.

Now I stand on this side of the fray, and looking back I can see young me, very screwed up by all this. Today I am still recovering and trying to rebuild a healthy sense of sexual self. This is why I am vocal about the problems of Christianity. You don’t have to be beating your children or refusing to treat them for pneumonia for your religion to be harmful. The guilt you insist upon using as behavior control is working its way through their subconscious, and depending on their own individual experiences, what other emotional issues they have, and how their mind is, could result in its own version of a living hell for them.

I must make an apology here. As much as I was a victim of these terrible practices, I heartily encouraged them as well. You better believe I judged the hell out of people who did not live up to my Christian standards, avoided them, congratulated myself on not being that much of a failure. I led Bible studies on purity myself, was an ‘accountability partner’ to keep my friends pure, and trumpeted the cause I believed in. I purposely hid information about what I had done and thought so that other people would think me the innocent, pure and noble being I was supposed to be. I confused many people (especially boyfriends) with cycling on and off through “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” phases. All throughout I had this awful smugness that comes from somebody who knows she’s right because the Bible says so. I’m sorry, everyone. That was bitchy of me.

During deconversion, there’s a long process of coming to terms with the end of your Jesus relationship. It goes through shades of depression and brilliant flashes of bold new freedom. Even though you logically know you don’t need to feel guilty about the things you did before, you still feel that way for a while. You have to reprocess events that happened in the past through your new worldview. This is all healthy, because you can finally experience some real self-forgiveness, and stop feeling guilty for things that only hurt your imaginary god. Letting go of the strict rules of Christian thoughtcrime doctrine allows you to discover who you are and what you want to make with your life, but the beginning of that journey is hard. You move from being guided to guiding yourself. If you come from a culture with very little secular influence and friends, you may be doing this all on your own. As a Christian, you’ve been taught Jesus is your strength, your goodness, your moral compass, your everything. It takes a while to believe you can be your own strength, goodness, moral compass, and everything.

The confusing nostalgia that rises when a worship song plays brings some of that baggage up. I lost a relationship, even if it was one-sided with an invisible silent friend. Even if that relationship harmed me, even if parts of me wish I had never had it, it was still something that meant the world to me when it was going on. Going forward, I know it’s likely people reading this, or my own children, could experience something very similar one day. That hurts me. Even if it results in a net positive in life overall, deconverting is a long path full of the reconstructing, removal, and rebuilding of aspects of yourself and relationships with others. It’s rough to go through, no matter how needed it is in somebody’s life. So for now, worship songs also remind me of that.

Fortunately, there’s always happy things to watch afterwards. For a happy note, I’ll share with you this video about the birth of a baby beluga:

 A few other notes on the sex, Christianity, deconversion, worship, and guilt:

I just found this book, Leaving the Fold, and I’m going to read it. I’ll review it later after I read it.

Prplfox‘s six-part story, reflections on his deconversion. Heart wrenching.

Great articles I read while looking into this:

Harms of Bible Believing Christianity, discussing Religious Trauma Syndrome.

“This is Not Your Fault” It’s nice to not be a murderer anymore.

Interesting article discussing a study done on religion, atheism, and depression: Atheism Doesn’t Suck

 

7 thoughts on “DC Talk: Teens, Sex, Worship, and Guilt

  1. Great post and very true of my experiences through early adulthood as well. Best luck on your journey.
    Also if you’re on Facebook, I recommend checking out “stuff Christian culture likes,” if you’ve not already done so. It’s been quite helpful to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Pooka, and very similar to my experience into early adulthood as well. I perhaps didn’t feel quite so close to the Christ figure but the feelings of guilt and shame over my human emotions and reactions were just like that. Best of luck on your journey.

    As a side note, if you’re on Facebook, I recommend checking out Stuff Christian Culture Likes. It’s been greatly helpful for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll make a longer blog post myself about this later, but for now I will say this: As someone who was never religious, this blog post highlights why I shouldn’t try to “deconvert” religious people, on account of me NOT HAVING A DAMN CLUE ON HOW IT IS TO BE RELIGIOUS! And since I don’t really have a clue, how on earth could I even attempt to think that I know what it would take to deconvert someone?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, one thing I have found is that many people are willing to engage in a positive sharing of ideas. I don’t think we need to focus on switching somebody’s world view to make a difference. Of the other Christians I have gone to high school and college with, all of them have different ideas than the generation that raised them due to thinking things over. That includes those who have deconverted like me, those who have loosened their religion into something more like agnosticism, and those who still consider themselves Christians. So discussing ideas, cause and effect, education, research, and overall having a respectful and kind conversion will still have positive effects on how we can be healthier as people and how to deal with problems we all face. So keep talking to people, even them realizing that people from different viewpoints have good reasons for their viewpoints, and that we aren’t evil or miserable, will lead to better relations with Christians.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Yarn Ends | Pooka Spins a Yarn

  5. I’m going through really similar feelings and it brings me comfort to know I am not alone. I get that same guilt, self hatred, and confusion. Thank you for writing this article.

    Like

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