This post first appeared on Dani Does Lots of Things on October 5, 2015. It has been republished below.
Last week, I went to my first therapy session since I was a teenager. (For those remembering my summer post about starting therapy, I was wrong — that was seeing a psychiatrist, not a psychologist.)
My primary care practitioner recommended the counselor who volunteers at the clinic. I’d known that the clinic had a pastoral care counselor, so I told her I was apprehensive about going to such counseling as an atheist, particularly an atheist whose mental health has been so damaged by Christianity. She assured me that despite his work on his Master of Divinity, he would be respectful and objective.
From these assurances, I assumed he must not be a biblical counselor like those I saw as a teenager, but closer to the many liberal Christian friends I have who merely want to make the world a better place through compassionate social justice work, much like my PCP is.
I also assumed that if he wasn’t licensed yet, he was working on it.
Ohhh, how wrong I was, on both counts.
While I don’t want to get distracted by the details of this session, a few things strike me as particularly notable about it. They’re themes I’ve noticed emerging from my more fundamentalist and evangelical friends alike, and it’s troubling.
On the one hand, he claimed that his office was a safe space free of judgment, much like you’d expect from a counselor.
On the other hand, he kept reiterating that he wasn’t going to stop talking about God.
Despite my repeated insistence that approaching my care with God as the focus (especially knowing that I’m an atheist) was disrespectful and made me very uncomfortable.
He disagreed, even managing to work a “God’s Plan for Salvation” speech in, all the while assuring me that’s not what he was going to do.
Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said multiple times before, I tend to not police Christians’ talk about their faith. I accept that it’s a significant driving force in their lives, and realize if I want a relationship with them, it’s unfair for me to expect them to keep quiet about it (much like it’s unfair for them to expect me to remain silent about my beliefs, but we’re still working on that one).
This particular situation, of course, was starkly different. This counselor was not acting or talking to me as a peer. I was in his care, and he was abusing the position of power that care afforded him.
This experience highlights a couple of the many reasons I have this on-going series of conversations for well-meaning Christians. There are reasons I keep coming back to the concepts of empathy and respect and listening to people who believe differently than conservative Christians do.
One such reason is the vast divide between what Christians expect from non-Christians and what they expect of themselves in relation to non-Christians. Continue reading