(404) 874-8536 johnballew@gmail.com

Escaping religious fundamenalism

There are many wonderful things about growing up in the South; religious fundamentalism isn’t one of them.  The South does not have a monopoly on conservative religion, but it may be hardest to avoid around here. And for gay men and women, that can create many problems.

The pull of fundamentalist religion is strong for many people. Membership in a fundamentalist church often  provides a powerful sense of community. That can be comforting in a world that’s full of uncertainty, anxiety and doubt, and may explain why conservative religion is so popular in the US these days. Because fundamentalists believe that there is only one true way to live, they have an answer for everything.

When it comes to relationships and sexuality, fundamentalists teach that sex is OK only in the context of marriage, and marriage means a man and a woman. That one-size-fits-all approach to sex and leaves gay folks caught in a dilemma where speaking the truth about love and relationships can lead to rejection by church and family.

Small wonder the pull to conform is often very strong. At worst, the urge to conform to others’ expectations can cause an enormous amount of self-loathing and internalized homophobia. Sometimes this means trying to become heterosexual to make a homo-hating fundamentalist deity happy by dating women when you have no real desire to do so. Sometimes it means finding a quack therapist or “ex-gay” ministry in a vain attempt to try to stop being gay. While it’s not all that difficult for some people to suppress their sexual desires, it’s an entirely different thing to replace those desires with another set. This needs to be recognized for what it is: spiritual abuse.

Not every gay person involved with fundamentalism ends up hating himself. People who compartmentalize their sexuality – or their spirituality – may be able to keep the conflict at bay. But when those compartments start to leak, there’s often a growing sense of not belonging. Breaking with long-established religious roots can be painful. That’s all the more true when gay friends are unsupportive and don’t recognize that spirituality is a complex and highly personal thing.

If you’re conflicted over religious beliefs, fundamentalist or not, realize that conflict and doubt are often a pathway to personal and spiritual growth. Taking time to examine your belief system in light of your personal experiences can enrich your spiritual and emotional health. It only makes sense to examine your spirituality and see how it affects your life. Questions you might ask include:

* Does my religious faith support my mental and emotional health, or is it a source of anxiety and self-doubt?

* What effect does religion have on my ability to have healthy intimate relationships?

* Are my beliefs something I’ve thought about and understand, or were they inherited from my family or religious community without ever really taking into consideration how they fit my own life?

While examining what you believe is a highly personal thing, sometimes it’s good to have company. Friends are a treasure if they are willing to listen without giving too much advice. A trustworthy spiritual advisor can help you explore what’s truly important to you. While fundamentalist religion often presents itself as the only true way, there are many paths through the forest of life. A mature and healthy spirituality can give meaning to existence and support in weathering life’s storms.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.