Our Far From Alone story spotlight #4 is from Fin Lockhart! Fin reached out to me after a friend who loved Tassja Dawn’s spotlight (have your read it?) pointed him in my direction. I’m excited to share his story with you. Exploring your spirituality after leaving a high-demand religion can be thorny, and Fin’s here to say you’re not alone.
A quick 101 before we get started:
Paganism is an umbrella term for diverse faiths and practices which are based on traditional or nature-based religions. These religions are often European in origin and may be both personally customized and reformed for modern times. Contrary to popular stereotypes, pagans do not worship Satan or sacrifice local goats — they simply live by traditions that dominant religions have demonized. Pagans may worship Celtic, Norse, Egyptian, and many other deities, identify as Wiccan, honor the Earth as sacred… the list goes on.
My name is Fin Lockhart, and I’m a former Evangelical Christian who now worships the Greek Gods, particularly Apollon.
I realize this sounds a little nutty to the general reading public, probably, but bear with me. After reading about Max’s Far From Alone series, I felt inspired to tell my own story of leaving fundie Christianity, because I realized that, just as it’d been incredibly difficult for me, other people might also struggle with the concept of exploring other religious structures after escaping.
I mean, come on, I remember thinking I would never be able to interact with any kind of deity ever again, under any circumstances – which would have been entirely valid if it’d remained the case, but then… it didn’t. And that was a whole different can of worms that nobody had ever prepared me for.
This isn’t going to be a story about me being rescued from a Bad Deity™ by a Good Deity™, it’s a story about reclaiming my true nature, my ability to love, and my right to make important decisions about my own life.
It’s the story of how I transitioned from being a fundie Christian to being a kinky devotional Polytheist – I know, right? It sounds like clickbait, or maybe a really old Enquirer headline.
I’m going to back up about 5 years for you, to when I was in the general area of 15 (although trauma tends to make one’s sense of linear time less than perfect): I had a box in my closet labeled “(deadname)’s Witnessing Stuff”. I went to youth revivals and lock-ins, felt like angels were singing in Heaven when I repented, passed out tracts to random people, and sang Christian songs in the shower. I’d be lying if I said I was being dragged, kicking and screaming, into doing all of these things: I thought I wanted to.
I guess, on some level, I did want to. I had a fascination with the idea of magic and Paganism, but I’d never come across any lit about anything other than Wicca, and besides, I knew I’d never do any of That Stuff™ unless I could figure out how to do it in a God-honoring way… right? Right??
I absolutely didn’t feel drawn to it or anything in a serious religious way, I had myself convinced. And due to what I “learned” about “Pagan” religions in Sunday School and Bible Study, I had images in my head of brutal human and animal sacrifices, sexual slavery, and all manner of horrible things. (Modern Canaanite Polytheists: my hat goes off to you, truly. You and your Gods deserve a fucking break.)
Once I began to realize that I was probably not cishet [straight and heterosexual], I turned to LGBT-friendly Christian resources online and tried to convince my parents that I was only concerned with the fate of queer people’s souls – y’know, because “a Christian is the only friend you’ll ever have who cares about your soul” (raise your hand if you’ve heard that one before). It didn’t work, I learned later, but nobody ever asked me about my identity or told me I’d be accepted if I came out. I was expected to pull all the weight of that myself.
I don’t know when it was exactly – probably after I had the living daylights scared out of me by a fire-and-brimstone Evangelist who came to visit our church – but at some point along the line, I broke. It wasn’t as simple as “I realized I was being mistreated by this belief system and decided to leave it, the end”, but I was exhausted from diving for the scraps of God’s love by secretly looking up gay-friendly Christian videos on YouTube.
It wasn’t enough, and, I eventually realized, I did not love Christ enough to spend my life trying to reform his religion into something I could survive in.
It wasn’t a fair expectation for queer Christians, and I couldn’t do it. I was a wreck: I was afraid of waking up in Hell, and a large part of me still thought that was a healthy thing. I lay awake at night worrying and half-believing that any loud noise I heard was Judgement Day coming. I self-harmed. I read and re-read my fundie books, which I had initially gotten “of my own free will”, and I was afraid of how much less helpful they seemed each time I did.
I’d like to get to the good part, the part about me discovering that my close friend had a healthy relationship with Loki and starting to do research on Polytheism in general and discovering Hestia and the Greek pantheon, quickly, but there’s a bit more of the bad part before that, unfortunately.
My first attempted forays into Paganism did not go well. As I began to realize I was transmasc and gay, I didn’t feel comfortable with the intense focus on female sexuality and cishetero intercourse that all the books in the library about witchcraft and Paganism seemed to have. And being a newly disillusioned fundie Christian gave me a very black-and-white view of things: there was God, the Christian God, and there were people who worshiped him, and there were people who hated him and worshiped other forces instead, like the Devil or some vague Goddess, whom I for some reason imagined to have something to do with Eve rebelling in the garden. Or… something. Something kinda like that.
Anyway, the dude with the horns never appealed to me, and I realized when I started identifying as a nonbinary trans man that I had no place in the “we are the daughters of the witches you failed to burn”-type circles. And besides, I was still afraid. I viewed even the act of reading a book about tarot cards as potentially dangerous to my soul.
Of course my views of what Paganism was were flawed – witchcraft and Paganism don’t have to intersect, Wicca isn’t all about dancing around naked, there are plenty of paths that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Devil and aren’t focused on female sexuality.
But with my (what I now recognize as) Evangelical programming and extremely limited resources viewed through a lens of intense fear, that was all I could see, and it seemed at once too vast and terrifying for me to touch, and not enough.
The biggest problem was that I didn’t want “the Devil or some vague Goddess.” I wanted out of the whole paradigm I’d been raised in where I had to include Christ’s existence, even hating Christ, in my faith at all. And I never, ever got the impression that I was allowed to do that until I was 18, and I started – of all things – an OC [original character] roleplay blog on Tumblr. This had nothing at all to do with religion, I just wanted in on the vibrant community of writers I’d been eyeing ever since I obtained Internet access and some small measure of privacy.
It was on this blog that I first came out as not-cis, slowly easing into a place where I felt comfortable using he/him pronouns (I now use he/him/his and xe/xem/xyr interchangeably). I made friends who were openly LGBT and wrote characters who were… and I also happened upon the personal blog of one of my RP partners, who was a witch and worshiped Loki. I started tentatively asking him about witchcraft, making sure to specify that I could never, ever, ever, ever work with or worship a deity, because of Reasons™ that I wasn’t comfortable enough to divulge.
I want to be clear that there was no evangelizing involved here – my friend answered my questions and never tried to talk up his religion beyond simply posting about it on his blog as per usual. But something about his relationship with Loki and the rest of the Norse Gods struck a chord with me, somehow. It seemed… healthy. Respectful on both ends. I had never read about anything like it, and although I didn’t necessarily want to worship my friend’s Gods, I wanted a relationship like that.
I didn’t say anything, but I started doing research on Polytheism on my own, and I decided, with zero resources or Lore™ knowledge or ways of knowing if I was doing this right, to start worshiping Hestia, the hearth Goddess of the Greek pantheon. And for any other questioning, barely-ex-fundies out there, I want to tell you what happened to me after I did this: nothing. Zip, nada, zilch. I was fine. I felt loved, and I lost a lot of my guilt over wanting to smooth over arguments and avoid conflict with my family (the myth of Hestia giving up Her seat to Dionysos had a lot to do with this). But nothing happened on the Christian deity’s end, and I didn’t accidentally make a contract with Satan. I was totally okay.
I made a whole ass-load of mistakes – there is simply no better phrase to describe how many – and I misunderstood and misused the words “Patron” and “devotee”, and I made assumptions, and I made altars, and I took down altars, and I got curious about deities that I ended up not having a super close relationship with, and the ways in which I referred to myself and my practice changed again and again and again. No fire came from Heaven to punish me for idolatry. Again, I was fine, and if you want to try practicing non-Christian religions that you’re not excessively knowledgeable about, you’ll be fine too. I realized that my fears of everything being demons and getting roped into some awful contract by accident and getting zapped if I made a mistake were unfounded.
This all sounds incredible, and it was. But the fact remains that a small part of me, throughout all this, remained indoctrinated, and to some degree I approached Hellenism (the word for Greek Polytheism, not anything to do with Hell) with the following mindset: I am damned no matter what. I’m going to Hell, and I’m going to stick with these deities anyway because They’re worth it, and I’m too miserable to stay in Christianity, even knowing what my fate will be for leaving. Theologically this made no goddamn sense whatsoever, and it was terribly unhealthy, but it was the only way my brain could rationalize what I was doing. I was not aware that I held this belief – certain things that reminded me of Christianity acted like sleeper agent triggers, dredging up my belief in Hell, only to more-or-less wipe my memory of the experience (but not the fear) later.
And on June 19th, 2017, I devoted to Apollon.
As this is not a “why I devoted to Apollon and You Should Too™” post, I’ll spare you the emotional reminiscing, but it was absolutely the right thing for me to do at that time. The can of worms? Opened. I was doing what I had decided I’d never be able to do – not only worshiping a pantheon of deities, but specifically, personally devoting to one deity in particular.
I’d like you to consider a couple of things before continuing: one, Lucifer was portrayed to me as a beautiful angel of light, perhaps even a Prince of light, and also as the great destroyer, who had taken the form of a serpent to lie to Eve about the tree of knowledge, and I was taught that anything not of God that seemed to bring me spiritual fulfillment was Lucifer in disguise. Two, my God – Apollon – is a God of light and knowledge who is famously depicted as incredibly beautiful, referred to as a Prince sometimes, and often symbolized with serpents, due to the slaying of Python. He is also considered a destroyer God. It’s even in the etymology of His name.
I’m sure you can see where this is going, and why my “sleeper agent” fundie programming kicked in to “protect” me. It wasn’t fun, but it’s largely over, although my trauma hasn’t been healed entirely, and I still have the occasional bout of existential fear over “what if He’s not who I think?” Thanks, Evangelicalism! I absolutely needed that idea planted in my mind as a child. It’s been so helpful. Really. 😒
Lucifer/Apollon parallels aside, though, my biggest struggle was the realization that I wanted to live in religious service. What the fuck? As I began to experience feelings of being in love with and wanting to belong to Apollon, the “what the fuck” increased. I didn’t know if I could trust myself. I thought I’d been so thoroughly programmed by Christianity that I was incapable of feeling sacred love unless it was simply “Christian backlash” and therefore unhealthy.
There’s a particular Bible verse that encompasses a lot of the way I viewed divine love as a Christian:
“You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
– 1 Corinthians, 6:18-20, New International Version
This is fundamentally bullshit and here’s why: I can’t “give” someone, or Someone, something I don’t own. If it’s not mine to begin with, if I don’t want to give it away, the gift is worthless. It’s not even a gift. It’s pageantry plastered sloppily over nonconsensual slavery, and that is not fucking sacred. I believe in deities, and I believe that They need our consent to form healthy, fulfilling relationships that will get either the mortal or the deity anywhere good. And this is considered blasphemy not only in fundie Christianity, but in certain Pagan/Polytheist circles as well.
I realized something as I was working through these concerns: I knew, finally, why I had really left Christianity, why I hadn’t been able to make it work. It was because I didn’t love Christ, simple as that. And that’s okay, because I don’t have to love Christ, and neither do you.
I want you to remember this, fellow questioning barely-ex-Christian, even if you take nothing else away from this article: even in the event that Christ was real and you experienced him as real, you would still have the right to be an atheist or a Muslim or Jewish or a Pagan or a Buddhist, etc, and he wouldn’t have the right to punish you for refusing him. At least, that’s the philosophy that has carried me through a lot of bullshit to a healthy religious practice. Demanding love from someone else as an inalienable right is immoral. My deities are moral and I expect that from them.
I had the right to fall in love with Apollon and leave Christianity forever, because I’d never had any conscious choice about “loving” Christ. (And on the topic of love – don’t even get me started on the “purity pledge” thing in my old church. Just. Don’t. And telling kids that we had to be a part of the “Bride of Christ” takes on a whole new, creepy-as-hell meaning now that I’ve read up on the history of God-and-spirit-spousery.)
I would amend that Bible verse to say: “I am my own, and I am allowed to give myself to whoever I want at no price, and honor whoever I think deserves honor however I see fit.”
At some point while I was hashing all this out, I came upon another really enlightening part of the world that was denied to fundie Christians: the BDSM community. Specifically, I found out that consensual servitude was a thing! My natural state of being – mine, not necessarily yours – is that I really enjoy having an authority to look up to and serve. This was incredibly fucking difficult to come to terms with, under the screeching of “IT’S JUST CHRISTIAN BACKLASH!” that came from the Pagan community at large when I discussed the intensity of my feelings towards Apollon – either that, or it was “yes, that’s how EVERYONE should live, in perfect or near-perfect submission to The Gods™!”
Obviously, neither response was helpful. I ended up – shock! – learning a lot more about being a devotee from mortal BDSM-centered writing about negotiating submission, obtaining consent, and power exchange – not even necessarily in a sexual way, but in terms of religious submission. I learned that the phrase “my kink is not your kink and that’s okay” could easily be edited to say: “my religion is not your religion and that’s okay”.
Nobody has to do what I’m doing. I don’t have to do what anyone else is doing. Every single part of me is – as Arwen says in The Lord of the Rings, because I’m a nerd – mine to give to whom I will. And I’m not too broken to know love when I experience it, or to know my own nature and what’s good for me.
I am a gay nonbinary trans man who serves a Greek God and is super curious about everyone else’s religious beliefs – there’s literally so much more out there, and it’s so much more fun to read and talk about, once you drop the filter of having to witness to every single non-Christian you come across. I have doubts, I have questions, sometimes I find stuff about my King (which is how I began referring to Apollon relatively recently – can’t deny that there’s a bit of “I have my own King, you can’t make me serve yours, nyah nyah nyah nyah!” going on there), and it makes me go “Wait, WHAT? Please explain??”
But the thing is, that’s okay. Asking is okay. Not being satisfied with the answer and having to continue asking is okay.
Being completely honest about even my darkest doubts concerning Him is okay, and I am not punished for being human. Hell, I’m expected to be human. I don’t need to “become Apollon-like” as I was expected to “become Christ-like”, because I am an individual person who is not just an extension of Apollon, and this is a relationship. You don’t enter relationships expecting to fundamentally change the other person’s very being, you enter them because you love the other person. Even, I believe, where deities are concerned.
And I want you to know that, just as everything I did is okay, everything you might want to do is also okay. Fundie Christianity is wrong when it tells you that your default mode is being owned by Christ.
Your default mode is being owned by yourself, and no one else can tell you who to love, what to fear, or what to find joy in. Your religion is not my religion, and that’s okay.
If you disagree harshly with everything I’ve just said about religion, I support the hell out of you and I’ll be there cheering you on in your own path with pom-poms, so long as you’re not oppressing anyone else.
You can reach Fin through his WordPress, Revivalish.
Have you explored your own spirituality after leaving a religion? What are your experiences?