Why I Am Not a Christian, Part One: Because I Don’t Have a Penis

This post is the reason my blog hasn’t been updated in months. It’s such a complicated, sensitive subject that I didn’t dare attempt it until I felt I could do it the justice it deserves. I’ve also struggled with deep-rooted bitterness toward the faith of my formative years, and I did not want that bitterness to decide the tone of this post. The traumatizing experiences I had as an intellectually inquisitive young Christian are absolutely integral to my decision to leave the church. But they were not deciding factors, and I cannot over-emphasize exactly how weary I am of the stereotype that prodigal sons and daughters like myself left because of an emotional reaction to the very real problems of hate, hypocrisy and politicization that plague American Christianity. It’s patronizing. Ultimately, I left because I simply don’t believe the doctrines of the Christian church. But that is a decision that has been looming in my life for years, and the process of reaching that decision is what I want to discuss here.

It’s a process that began early, due to one of the most basic aspects of being human: gender. I’m female. That’s how my gender was assigned at birth and it’s how I continue to identify myself. Specifically, I’m a feminist sort of female. And please, check your stereotypes at the door. When  I write that I am a feminist, I do not do so while clutching the severed testicles of the latest male to fall victim to my misandrist ways. When I write that I am a feminist I mean that I was a little girl who used to tell everyone that her favorite books of the Bible were Ruth and Esther because they were the only books in the Bible named for women. I write it from my memories of being an adolescent girl left cold by the relentless lectures on female modesty, purity and submission that have been lobbed in my direction before I even owned a training bra. I cried about puberty. I dreaded it. I remember lying awake at night and begging God to slow the process, even just for a year, and who could blame me? If you’ve been told your entire life that you represent a potential stumbling block to every man who sees you, that it is your responsibility to pay minute attention to your dress and your body so that you in no way offend men, who wouldn’t dread the onset of adolescence? The roots of my feminism are, therefore, clearly emotional.  I am furious that I was indoctrinated by evangelical Christianity to feel such shame over my own body. I resent that I was raised not only with a lack of agency, but also with the belief that I should not expect it.

But chiefly what I mean when I write that I am a feminist is that I believe it is an intellectually untenable position to insist that either sex is meant to submit to the other. I also believe it’s theologically untenable. I think that complementarianism is an oppressive philosophy that survives due to pervasive gender prejudice. I was an egalitarian Christian, and I still believe that egalitarianism is the most accurate interpretation of the Bible. But I do owe complementarian theology something, and it’s this: it is the reason I began to question my faith. Clearly since I later held egalitarian views it’s not the reason I rejected that faith altogether. It merely showed me that organized religion has some serious drawbacks if the equality of the sexes is even a matter for debate.

I could elaborate this for days. I could describe the countless times I felt inferior because the way I express my female gender didn’t match the role set out for me by my religion, or that while I respect women who freely choose to become housewives and stay at home mothers, neither is a job that I ever wanted no matter how many times somebody told me about Proverbs 31. But really, what I’d love people to understand is that the experience of being a woman in American Christianity propelled me toward the process of leaving the church completely. It shouldn’t be remarkable when a woman chooses to have a career. There should be no sermons on the appropriate roles of women. There shouldn’t be a book in the world that actually posits that women were created by God to long for fairy-tale princesshood and rescue (from what exactly, I want to know) at the hands of strong silent types on white chargers. The fact that these things exist, and are promoted by so many religious figures, reflect the deeply damaging consequences of organized religion as they pertain to female-identified people.  It’s a herd mentality, and those are potentially very dangerous–like when the herd decides it’s against your civil rights as a citizen in a democratic society.

In that spirit, the next installment of this series is going to cover the politicization of Christianity.


9 thoughts on “Why I Am Not a Christian, Part One: Because I Don’t Have a Penis

  1. Sarah,

    I’m going to cry a very VERY gentle “bullshit” on this post. (Gentle because I know the pain of similar experiences in my upbringing & education.)
    Being female and a feminist (as I would unabashedly claim to be. You’ve got to OWN that one, girl!) is reason to not want to be a “Cedarville” Christian, perhaps. Or a fundamentalist Christian or an evangelical Christian or a fundagelical Christian. I get all of that. But there is a wide swath of Christianity in which arguments about complementarian & egalitarian are SO 50 years ago. In which women preside in any gol’ durn office God calls them too and they make no apologies for choosing a career and asking a partner to actually PARTNER in child-raising.

    So what I want to know is: where are you on the Trinity? On the dual natures of Christ? On atonement (substitutionary, penal, whatever — did Jesus cross DO anything?) and resurrection? What parts of the Apostle’s Creed do you actively disagree with (which is different from wrestling with them, because any thinking CHRISTIAN will do that)?

    That, it seems to me, is closer to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. I guess I read your post and thought, “There is nothing in here that I disagree with and I’m a minister for shit’s sake so I’d say I’m pretty Christian.”

    Be pissed. Get a counselor (not because you are crazy but because you have lived in a crazy place for a very long time) and find a church that loves women the way Jesus did.

    Reverend Meg Jenista (What up, Cedarville Bible Department!?!?)

    • Hey Meg, thanks for the comment!

      I suppose what I’m driving at–and maybe not doing so successfully–is that I don’t think these debates should even happen, and that they are a natural consequence of belonging to a religion. I did reject Cedarvillian Christianity. And I know it’s possible to practice Christianity in a way that respects women, and the GLBT community, and any other marginalized group you’d care to add here. I’ve met people who do and I tried to be one myself. But when you’ve got a holy book, and a system of belief that derives from interpreting that holy book, I think you’re always going to have the problems I described in my post. That’s why I chose to reject the system itself.

      And I do intend to address other reasons behind my decision to leave Christianity. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, so there are a lot of facets to it. Gender’s only one factor. But I do appreciate the feedback, and if you’ve ever got the time I would love to hear your own reasons for staying in the faith. I have no doubt they’re good ones.

    • Fundagelical! That’s my new favorite word! Sounds like something you get off an ice cream truck. “Hey mister, I’ll take an orange pop, a dreamcicle and a fundagelical”

      Which would explain why they all have a massive stick up their ass.

      Great writing, Sarah. Christianity’s rampant sexism caused me to question and eventually leave the faith as well. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!

  2. Sarah, you didn’t even mention Jesus! How did Jesus, loving Jesus and living a Jesus-shaped life fail for you?

    I’m a SAHM who loves cooking and sewing – and I’m also a feminist. I found a church where all are valued because of their gifts, their love for Jesus and for just being who they are.

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your journey.

    • Hi, thanks for the comment! I thought I’d mentioned Jesus, if not I’m sorry. I quite like Jesus. Insert relevant Gandhi quote here 🙂 And I do think it’s possible to be an agnostic and draw inspiration from the life of Jesus. I just don’t think he’s the son of God anymore.

      Your church sounds fantastic. I’m glad you were able to find a place where your gifts are respected. I wish I’d had that experience while I was growing up.

  3. This is interesting to me, and sad.

    I had almost the opposite experience, in that I was brought up as an atheist, and converted to Christianity several months ago in large part *because* of Feminism. (I should also note for the record that I am male.)

    That parts of the church help drive feminists away from their faith is…. well obviously I can’t say its surprising.

    I’ll keenly await your follow up posts on this.

    • I’d be really interested to hear more about that, actually. I think you’re probably the first person I’ve encountered to give that as a reason for converting to Christianity.

      When I examine my experiences with Christianity, it’s clear that the Christianity I grew up with was strongly colored by the local culture. I’m from the South, which is not really a bastion of feminism or of progressivism. Another reason I started to drift from Christianity deals with the discrimination I faced due to my psychiatric diagnosis. That discrimination came from my Christian high school classmates and teachers. I wish I’d covered it in this post. The blatant bigotry I received just for being a depressed teenager didn’t really do much for my faith either in God or my fellow man.

      • Yeah, well, my Christianity is…. unorthodox.

        Certainly I imagine most say Evangelical denominations in the States, at a minimum, would label me as a heretic. But my religious faith is focused on Christ as God’s Son and humanity’s saviour, so I think I’m accurate in using the term.

  4. Interesting, I look forward to hearing part 2! I’ve only realized in the past year or so how lucky I was/am that I had a good solid church growing up. I can’t remember any sermons on hell or how we should hate anyone and even though our church was/is clearly complementarian it was more implicit then explicit, no one ever told me I was worthless because of my gender or I couldn’t do something because I was a girl (well maybe be a pastor, but that was never pounded in or used as an excuse to hurt women). I guess it was kind of a soft complementarianism, where they always say that the man is the leader but in reality it kind of looks like what egalitarians would be (hence why I am close to changing my mind on the subject).

    Anyway I am very interested to hear your reasons for rejecting Jesus as savior ect. I went through a really serious time of doubt a few years back but was able to come back with a much stronger faith and I’m kind of curious to see where we split off in our different experiences.

    Cheers! 🙂

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