Here is why I don’t think that it’s melodramatic that I turned to classic breakup songs to process my religious trauma; because the religion that I’m healing from convinced me that their god would be my greatest love story and break-up songs express my experience leaving that religion so perfectly. Taylor Tomlinson said it in her Netflix special “Look at You”, “God is your shitty ex-boyfriend”.
There are, of course, a slew of songs from Taylor Swift and, honestly, I don’t even know how I narrowed them down. There are three songs in particular (and only one from TayTay) that just hit different; “Lose You to Love Me” by Selena Gomez, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” by Taylor Swift, and “Labour” by Paris Paloma.
My departure from evangelical Christianity coincided with the release of Selena’s “Lose You to Love Me”, allegedly written about her publicized breakup with Justin Beiber. It was the first song I put on my playlist. This ballad opens with “You promised the world and I fell for it” and it just gets more relatable from there;
I put you first and you adored it
Set fires to my forest
And you let it burn
Sang off-key in my chorus
'Cause it wasn't yours
My faith was all-consuming. From the time I was 9 years old, I allowed my Christian faith to dictate my path. I spent $40 000 at bible college, got married at the ripe age of 19, and dove head first into a job in ministry. For nearly two decades I shoved aside any sliver of self that would peek its head into my life for the sake of a god and church that demanded that sacrifice in order to stay in the club, to the point that I lost myself in burnout and depression and nearly took my own life.
My mental health crisis ended up being a wake-up call, forcing me to re-evaluate everything in my life, and at the top of that list was my faith. Deconstructing my faith was really my only option as I emerged from that crisis, and it seemed to crumble quickly under the weight of my cognitive dissonance. Turns out that Jesus really can’t fix everything. However, like Selena with Justin,
I saw the signs and I ignored it
Rose-colored glasses all distorted
Set fire to my purpose
And I let it burn
You got off on the hurtin'
When it wasn't yours, yeah
We'd always go into it blindly
I needed to lose you to find me
This dancing was killing me softly
I needed to hate you to love me, yeah
At the time, some other songs that joined “Lose You to Love Me” on my playlist of choice for my jogs around the neighborhood included “Death By a Thousand Cuts” and “Delicate” by Taylor Swift, and“Soulmate” and “Good As Hell” by Lizzo. But when Taylor released Midnights in 2022, we hit the motherload, with hits like “Midnight Rain”, “High Infidelity”, “Bejeweled” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”. Before I talk about the delicious ironic religious symbolism found in “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”, which my headcanon has turned on its head, there is one line in “High Infidelity” that cuts deep; “You know there's many different ways that you can kill the one you love; The slowest way is never loving them enough”.
You see, my old religion would claim that the love of God is enough, and yet I would say that the love I experienced within the evangelical Christian community falls flat next to the love I’ve experienced outside of it, including the love I now hold for myself. Christian love rings hollow next to the love of friends turned chosen family, who choose to love you each day and not just because some so-called benevolent god gave them a to-do list - which he doesn’t really hold anyone accountable for, by the way. It turns out that being a pet project for someone’s heaven points isn’t real love after all.
By now you can probably tell that I’m angry. I’m angry because evangelical Christianity systematically severed my relationship with myself and I have been working my ass off to repair that relationship over the past five years. I’m angry because I know that evangelical Christianity continues to do this to people and they specifically target children. I know this because I was part of an organization that did just that.
Christian parents will force their children to attend Sunday school and Bible clubs and camps, and I truly believe that it’s harmful, toxic, and even insidious. Christian organizations enter schools and neighborhoods to indoctrinate children. And yes I mean “force” and “indoctrinate” because children cannot consent, let alone give informed consent to enter a faith system.
When I was 9 years old I started attending an after-school Bible club at my school and this sent me on my two-decade-long journey of losing myself. Christianity taught me not to trust myself, my emotions, my body, my desires, my fears. This is why when Taylor sings “And if I was a child, did it matter; If you got to wash your hands?” I’m scream-singing alongside her.
Let’s look at the chorus of “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”;
I would've stayed on my knees
And I damn sure never would've danced with the devil
And the God's honest truth is that the pain was heaven
And now that I'm grown, I'm scared of ghosts
Memories feel like weapons
And now that I know, I wish you'd left me wondering
It’s the regret for me; hindsight shows me that I betrayed nine-year-old Christina and I’ve had to come to terms with that because she did the best she could with the information she had. But I don’t forgive the system (see religion) that led her down that path: “I can't let this go, I fight with you in my sleep; The wound won't close, I keep on waiting for a sign; I regret you all the time”. I’ll let it go when I see the other little girls (and boys) I led down the same path also find freedom, find themselves again, and repair their relationships with themselves. It’s my penance, I guess.
This brings me to the final song that I’ve recently added to my playlist, “Labour” by Paris Paloma. I love this song for my religious trauma playlist in particular because the language harkens to medieval, renaissance times and I would argue, biblical times (I’m smirking just thinking about it). In the second verse, Paris sings,
If we had a daughter I'd watch and could not save her The emotional torture
From the head of your high table
She'd do what you taught her
She'd meet the same cruel fate
So now I've gotta run
So I can undo this mistake
At least I've gotta try
When I started my healing journey I thought that I would get over the anger I felt at Christianity. I thought that I would come out on the other side, free and whole and that I would just put all of my trauma in the past, releasing that anger. I was partially right. I came out on the other side free and whole and even happy, but my anger was only refined and purified. I see the whole of it now, the scam that is evangelical Christianity. I see the white-washed, colonized god written by men who shed the blood of innocent children to keep their power.
I feel foolish for thinking that this man-made god and the racist, patriarchial system that wrote his story and that markets him to the world could ever create a better world. I feel foolish for believing that I was a part of creating that better world when I was only ever echoing harmful, soul-severing beliefs. My anger is fueled by the need to undo my mistake and to ensure the freedom and wholeness of the people I trapped with me during my two decades as a Christian.
To those people, I want to say that I’m sorry and I want to let them know that it is possible to return to yourself and to find the happiness that you deserve.
To the people that will defend the Christian faith and brush me and my lived experience off as an anomaly in an otherwise loving and soul-saving religion, I say, I get it, I’ve been where you are and all I can do is wish you the freedom and wholeness I now have. Also, if all you want to do is convince me that I’m wrong, disrespectfully stay the fuck away from me. You won’t convince me and I don’t believe you will be able to convince yourself for too much longer either.
To the people that relate to my experience and see your story written here on this blog, what songs would you add to this playlist?
I hope you know that you aren’t alone as you process your religious trauma. Know that as you listen to this playlist, I’m probably listening to it too.