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Heretic: A Memoir

Rating 5 out of 5

But to question how worthlessness, shame, and control were supposed to sit side by side with a belief in unconditional love would have been to question the foundation on which I had built my entire life.
Coming out and leaving the church was a death: of identity, a worldview, everything I thought I had known about myself.

Trigger Warnings: scenes and mentions of domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual assault and suicidal ideation (as mentioned by the author) I would also add religious trauma and healing because I imagine some out there can relate to her experiences, but may not want to read about them.

Heretic is an examination of Jeanna Kadlec's experiences with the Evangelical Church. Mostly it examines the power and gender structures within the church that cause people to leave. She asserts that conservative Christianity is responsible for building and even undermining political power structures. She examines ways it has impacted pop culture and even the ways that humans interact with one another. In writing her memoir Kadlec combines research, personal journal entries and conversations with friends and family to make her case. She however, prefaces that despite all this, her story is a narrative that is constructed by events from her personal experience.

Kadlec provides a moving account of her early encounters with religion and how it was a large part of her formative years. In fact, it isn't until she becomes a teenager that she even begins to question aspects of her religion. She discusses various instances where her idea of Jesus, appear to come into conflict with what the members of her church were actually teaching and even how they were acting. It is these events, moments when her being a woman automatically means she isn't capable of leadership (despite being the most devout of her youth group), when she is scolded for her outfits, because they will lead others to sin, when she is told that her boyfriend isn't devout enough for having a different religion, that she begins to find cracks in her belief.

However, despite all these instances she does not waver in her belief, though she does slowly begin to realize that she is a feminist at heart. She discusses her relationship with and marriage to a pastor's son. Ultimately, for Kadlec the break from the church comes not when she divorces her husband (because many are willing to forgive this transgression on her part) but when she comes out. She then finds that a great number of her closest friends and family are willing to set her aside. It is for her at this point, accepting her sexuality, that she must confront the true inconsistencies in the religion she grew up in.

Kadlec's story is moving and captivating because of the narration choice she uses. She tells her story through defining moments in her life and religious experiences. The moments when real life didn't match what she had been taught. The moments that she was forced to confront the inequality, the unfairness, the power moves, and the outright hatred. However, Kadlec does not appear as someone who is bitter just as someone who has come to understand that the strict evangelical nature of Christianity isn't exactly helpful. Kadlec is the first to acknowledge, and even apologize, for the ways that she also fed into and enacted this behavior. The book is very clearly one of moments, moments which make us confront ourselves. It is a story of healing and growth. It is the story of someone coming to terms with their religious trauma, even for any they may have been responsible for perpetrating on others.

I realize most of this has been me gushing over Kadlec! (Sorry not sorry). This book hits on some HEAVY topics and does it in a manner that isn't insulting or even really that confrontational. She says her part, as she is entitled, but she also backs all of these things up with FACTS! It reads like this is my opinion, but hey look at these historical and current events that support what I'm saying. The book does not see her spewing hate and disdain. She simply is telling her story as she experienced and admits that these are just moments and memories. Ultimately it seemed to me that Kadlec was very alone in her experiences with religion, until she found others like her. I loved that more than anything this wasn't a story of hate but a story of healing. She shows the memories that most impacted her formative years, and highlights the way she has undone the pain. The ways she has reloved herself and retaught herself. It isn't just a story of religion it's also a story of coming out and all that entails on a personal level. The book is a message to others experiencing or who have experienced religious trauma: Our stories may not be the same, but know that you are not alone.

"Even the clearest memories are imperfect, rocks shaped by the watery ebb and flow of time."

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