Christian fundamentalism and superstition

[note: there is some swearing in today’s post]

When Handsome and I first began dating, one of the hurdles we had to overcome was the different way we were raised. He had a fairly normal, healthy evangelical upbringing. His childhood was unmarred by any of the things that affected me, and when I tried to explain some of what I’d experienced he was bewildered. To him, my descriptions of my church and college were utterly foreign. It was through seeing his reactions to my story that I finally started grasping exactly how fucked up my life was.

Before I truly unburdened myself with him, I’d only ever shared snippets and bits with coworkers and friends, and usually as funny anecdotes or to seem mysterious. Trust me, “At my alma mater, they gave you demerits if they caught you using the bathroom after 11” gets you a lot of horrified looks. Handsome, though, stated it the most succinctly: they’re literally a prison, right down to the fact that only “well-behaving” students were ever allowed off campus (ie, if you got more than 75 demerits,  you were “campused,” which prompted Handsome to ask if it fit the legal requirements of false imprisonment. Answer: it does).

My life is, to put it mildly, beyond fucked up. It’s a nightmare. It’s the worst possible thing that JK Rowling could envision happening to Hogwarts; in fact, for the bulk of my life I was constrained by all the rules Dolores Umbridge instituted during Order of the Phoenix.

I thought we’d moved past anything that could surprise him, but last night he came into the office because I was laughing so hard at this article: “Adult Coloring Books and Mandalas, a Warning for Christians.” It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, and I read him some highlights, such as:

The thing is, how is the devil going to get Christians to meditate on mandalas?

No Christian would put one in their house and sit and stare at it for an hour, chanting the sacred word! But if the enemy can get a Christian to stare at a mandala because they are coloring it, he can have them absentmindedly focus their attention on the image and they will unknowingly open up their subconscious to this image in almost the same way.

Handsome sort of laughed, but his first reaction was “wait … people actually think that coloring books can cause demon possession?” I attempted to explain the difference between “demon possession” and “demonic influences,” using examples like listening to rock music could allow demons to enter your home, or how bringing a piece of Harry Potter fanart into a church sanctuary could allow “demonic influences” to infect the congregation. There’s a particular horror with all things related to “eastern mysticism,” the form of racism that gave birth to the post I quoted above.

It’s why we held things like book burnings– to cleanse the evil spirits from our churches in home. One of my cult’s regular evangelists was a man who claimed he had pictures of demons being released from Beatles albums as they burned. I saw one. At the time, I thought it was convincing, so I brought along an old copy of a Steve Green album I’d kept hidden under my bed and tossed it into a fire.

I was laughing as I explained, but his incredulity slowly halted my amusement. Once again I was forced to acknowledge just how abnormal my experiences are. I was raised with a set of beliefs that literally amount to nothing more than tossing salt over your shoulder or putting rose petals across your threshold to protect your home from the fae folk.

Earlier that night, at small group, we ended up talking a lot about Young Earth Creationism and I tried to explain why Creationists think that radiocarbon dating is a lie, and how their argument basically amounts to nothing more than maybe the laws of Physics worked differently in the past. Connected with that post about mandalas, I realized that the “science” I was raised with is just as fucking ridiculous as thinking that a pile of rags in the corner turns into rats.

It suddenly hit me: it’s not an exaggeration to say that the understanding of the world I was given was roughly the same as a child growing up in Medieval Europe. And that’s when I got angry. No, not just angry. Furious.

It’s been a while since it’s made me angry. Most of the time I’ve learned to accept it. But every once in a while I am just so fucking pissed off because I was lied to. More than deceived– I was inculcated in a worldview that had more in common with fairy tales than reality. I was robbed of an accurate understanding of how the world works, or any ability to explore it. Sometimes, I feel violated. The leaders I admired exploited my innocence and trust in order to twist my mind into believing superstitious drivel.

As a child, I actually fucking believed shit on the level of “vampires can only enter your home if you invite them in” and “keep a lot of garlic on you.” Handsome and I joked about waving around a decorative cross we have and reciting incantations, or making a salt circle in our bedroom, but it’s still infuriating that I used to think that way.

I wish it were limited to just book burnings and thinking an analogy about potatoes could single-handedly defeat radiocarbon dating, but it’s not. That mode of thinking permeated everything. I was trained to be superstitious about spiritual matters and physical ones. I was explicitly instructed to not only accept a premise without questioning it, but to vociferously reject any evidence that contradicted it– that my salvation depended on blind faith. I was severely castigated for my doubts, and the end result was a grown-ass woman who couldn’t sleep for two days because she’d spooked herself with the idea of thinking there was a demon in her dorm room.

In my experience, Christian fundamentalism is completely dominated by superstition, and not just of the “karate is spiritually dangerous” variety. It’s indelibly a part of how they view anything. Their entire religious experience is bound up in processing all information through a set of ironclad beliefs, and they see any new piece of information as incapable of contradicting them. Instead, something that’s actually a contradiction is just incorporated as another piece of “evidence.” It’s like someone being shown that flies hatch from eggs and them saying “yes, those little white things are of course tiny bits of beef.”

Fundamentalism is dangerous because it clings to a view in the world that isn’t based in reality at all. I’m aware that religion, as a matter of faith, is hardly in the same arena as science and demonstrable facts, but even as a Christian I can acknowledge the difference between what the Bible says about the beginnings of Israel and what archaeology says. To a fundamentalist, there is no line between religion and science, nor can there be. Being a Christian, to them, means elevating ancient mythologies above the level of proven, demonstrable fact.

Photo by Martin Brigden
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