One Lady Thinks Many Americans Suffer From ‘Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome’

Reba Riley
Reba Riley

I’d been given a religion that was built like a Jenga tower—when I took a few blocks out, it all tumbled to the ground

When I read the Pew Research Center’s report on America’s changing religious landscape, I don’t see statistics. I see Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

[n. pohst-truhmat-ik church sin-drohm]

  1. A condition of spiritual injury that occurs as a result of religion, faith, and/or the leaving, losing, or breaking thereof
  2. The vile, noxious, icky, and otherwise foul aftermath of said spiritual injury
  3. A serious term intended to aid serious spiritual healing—without tak­ing itself too seriously in the process

Where the data shows five million fewer Protestants, three million fewer Catholics, and nineteen million more “nones” who do not identity with any religion, I see Sarah the bartender who isn’t allowed to love Jesus because she loves women, Sam who adores the new Pope but hates the things the church has done in the name of Jesus, and David the minister who just can’t believe in hell.

I see thousands of stories of brokenness. I see the millions of people who crash into religion when they go looking for God. I see people so tired of being spiritually bruised that they give up on faith altogether.

And I ought to know: I used to be one of them.

The first time I wrote down the term “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” was sometime in the early 2000s. It didn’t matter that the phrase was written in blue eyeliner on the back of a cocktail napkin or that much wine was involved. In vino veritas!

Strung together, the four little words framed pain I couldn’t express, said what I couldn’t. They identified the reason I couldn’t pray, or darken the door of a church, or say the word “God.”

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome was the reason I was a “none.”

People who leave or are left by their faith lose a lot more than a place to go on Sunday morning. They lose relationships with family and friends, social status, tribal approval, self-esteem. They lose their God, their identity, their certainty, their gravity. I know because I lost all those things.

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SOURCE: TIME Magazine – Reba Riley is the author of the forthcoming Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing.

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