If you’ve been here for any length of time you should be pretty well aware of that fact that I grew up in Christian fundamentalism. It was everything, my entire world, for the bulk of the aware-of-Jesus-and-could-understand-sermons portion of my life. And then I grew up and decided that I didn’t agree with … well, pretty much all of it. Except for the God and Jesus part, which even believing in he/she/they was a struggle for a few years. A while after I’d decided well, I think I’m still a Christian but what does that even mean I started a blog to sort it all out and here we are.
Handsome and I have had a few conversations about this, because there’s a not-insignificant part of me that wonders how is anyone still a fundamentalist? It makes no sense, and is based on a lot of claims that are … well, in retrospect, I find it more than baffling that I ever accepted those claims as true, although I give myself a little wiggle room because I was a child and the second I was exposed to real information I started investigating and bam I wasn’t a fundamentalist anymore.
And that’s when I sort of stumbled into the answer to the question “how did I ever manage to change my mind?” After all, it’s not something that everyone easily does, especially when it comes to politics and religion. I was explaining my thought process to my partner and realized that I had some things going for me that a lot of grew-up-in-fundamentalist-Christianity people don’t have, and it wasn’t actually a “BAM! YOU’RE NO LONGER A FUNDAMENTALIST!” it was more “well, hello piece of information that seems to contradict something I’ve been taught, let’s look into thi– … whoah.” It has been, as the subtitle of this blog suggests, an ongoing journey.
Thing I had going for me #1: I was not a man.
I’ve casually mentioned this in a few things that I’ve written over the past few years, and talked about it in my BBC radio interview a few weeks ago– as a woman, I faced a lot of things that a man didn’t have to face. I was forbidden from doing things I deeply loved. I was shamed and mocked and belittled for being the sort of woman I am– feminine, but rambunctious. Introverted, but outgoing and occasionally loud. Ambitious in directions that no one approved of. I was told no an awful lot.
If I had been a boy and then a man, I wouldn’t have faced any of that. My rampant curiosity, my deep interest in theological discussions, my ability to stand up in front of people and shout about things– all of that would have been directed toward turning me into a “preacher boy.” I would have been one of the most amazingly privileged people in the fundamentalist community, and everything about who I am would have been nurtured and praised. Leaving behind a system that affords you a lot of power and opportunity is a lot harder to abandon than a system that is hell-bent on squashing you.
Thing I had going for me #2: I was not straight.
I was doggone terrified during high school because I thought I might be a lesbian. I thought the boys around me were repulsive (I was right: they were all, without exception, horrific misogynists and would have been controlling husbands) and combine that with the passing fanciful thoughts I had about kissing my best friend and I was in serious trouble. I rarely ever let myself think about it and when I inevitably did, I forced all those thoughts under the bannerhead of “I AM NOT A LESBIAN WOMEN ARE JUST PRETTY THAT’S IT.”
But that whole not-being-straight thing compounded with the not-a-man thing and by the time I got to college I was more likely than my straight male peers to think that this whole fundamentalist Christianity thing was total bunk.
Thing I had going for me #3: I was curious.
This isn’t to say that fundamentalists can’t be curious. Of course they can be. But their curiosity is … restrained. It has limits. The nature of fundamentalism means that there are some answers that they’re indoctrinated to reject out of hand, without investigation. But, because I was a bisexual woman and less averse to some answers than they were, I was predisposed to ask more meaningful questions and more willing to accept answers that disagreed with what I’d been taught.
I was also lucky.
During my sophomore year I had to take an Old Testament Survey class, and one of the assignments was to write a review of this book that was dedicated to how the King James Version is the Only True Bible blah blah blah. I’d grown up in this movement. Every church I attended or even visited until I was 23 was a strict King James Only church. One of the assigned textbooks I had to read every year since fourth grade was about the topic, and it was something that I was pretty interested in. It was a sticking point between me and some of my friends, and I even got into some late-night fights with roommates at summer camp about how it’s impossible to become a Christian if you read a different version of the Bible. Yeah, I know, I was that person.
Anyway, the book they assigned us was ridiculous– and that was coming from me, a staunch KJV-Only Supporter. At the time I was writing that paper, I stumbled across God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson and … well, nothing was ever quite the same. I’d picked it up at Barnes & Noble because the back copy made it sound extremely favorable toward my position (“It is the greatest work of English prose ever written”), and in fact, Nicolson is rather enamored with the Authorized Version and its history. But he approached it not as a theologian invested in defending the Textus Receptus, and was completely uninterested in proving that the KJV is superior to all other translations, or that the Sinaiticus was worthy of the trash heap and nothing more. That perspective allowed him to tell the story of how the Authorized Version was compiled and translated and it was … eye opening, especially since some of the verifiable facts he related blatantly contradicted several fundamentalist positions concerning Scripture and its interpretation.
That single book is what started this whole deconverting-from-fundamentalism process, because once you’ve opened your world to the idea that maybe some of the things you’ve been taught are wrong, Christian fundamentalism will inevitably collapse. It can’t stand up to rigorous questioning.
But, you have to get to the place where you’re willing to question it, and in a sense I’m rather fortunate. If the circumstances of my life had been different– if I hadn’t belonged to an abusive cult, if I’d had male privilege, if I’d been straight, if any one of a number of things had been different, I might have been happy in my ignorance and unwilling to rock my own boat.