Browsing Tag

Christian fundamentalism

Theology

panic at the dentist: on moral neutrality

“I have a lot of hangups” would be a most profound understatement.

I was thinking that again on my way to the dentist this morning. To explain why dentist = hangup, you’ll need some context. My family never misses seeing the dentist, and I mean never. Dental hygiene was a monumental deal– one of the most memorable spankings I received was the one night I tried to lie about brushing my teeth (the spanking was mostly for lying, but also a little bit for not brushing my teeth). Hygiene in general was important, but somehow I got the message that having clean teeth equated with being a morally good and responsible person.

So, you can imagine how incredibly proud I was of the fact that I’d never had a cavity. Every time the dentist would joke “if everyone had teeth like yours I’d be out of business!” and I’d say something about drinking three glasses of milk every day. That record lasted until a) not seeing a dentist for two years in graduate school, b) while I was drinking buckets of coffee every day, c) had an diagnosed vitamin-D deficiency and d) was not regularly flossing. The first time I saw a dentist after I got married, I had ten cavities. Ten. Flash forward two years later and one of them needed a crown.

Needless to say, I now dread going to the dentist.

This morning’s appointment was the first one I’d had in a while since I’d had to cancel my last appointment unexpectedly (as in: I was standing in the waiting room obviously about to throw up and they sent me home because they are nice, considerate, lovely people and I was being a little silly). All week I have had nightmares because I was utterly convinced that they were going to find cavities in all my teeth and I was going to need at least six root canals. At least. I was actually up until 3 am Wednesday night because I couldn’t stop feeling anxious about my dentist appointment that wasn’t for another two whole bloody days. I also kept having intrusive thoughts about the hygienist somehow picking all my fillings out (it’s happened before, with a filling that didn’t set properly).

Turns out I was freaking out for literally no reason (something I already sort of knew, but this is how JerkBrain works). The cleaning went fine, none of my fillings fell out, and they didn’t find any new cavities. I was in an out in twenty minutes, and I even got a compliment for having practically no tartar buildup.

***

I’m obviously having trouble deconstructing the idea that developing a cavity is a moral failing. If I were a good person, I’d floss twice a day and use mouthwash every night. Instead, I rarely use mouthwash and I floss maybe once or twice a week, which means that I’m a bad person. Bad people let all their teeth rot of their head, which is clearly what I’m doing when I don’t floss every single day.

However, this isn’t just about dental hygiene. Growing up, there was absolutely nothing that didn’t have a weighty, moral significance. Everything we did, saw, ate, read, or went all had eternal import. I heard a few verses tossed around to support this concept, notably one from Philippians:

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel …

That word “conversation” is politeuomai, and it basically means “living as a citizen.” In the context of this verse, our entire lives, all of our affairs, our conduct, were supposed to be lived as a citizen under “the gospel of Christ”– and in such a way that you’d have a reputation for living that way. There wasn’t a single aspect of our lives that wasn’t evaluated for whether or not it was a “Christian” thing to do or be or think or say.

Including, apparently, brushing your teeth.

I was talking to a friend recently and, in trying to be encouraging, I stumbled into something that I think could be helpful for a lot of us:

Not everything is meant to be received as a comment on your character.

Some things just … are. They just exist. You do them or not, you say them or not, you read them or not, you eat them or not, and none of it says anything about who you are as a person. A doughnut is just a doughnut, regardless of how your body is perceived by our culture. Curse words are just curse words, and saying them doesn’t actually mean you have a shallow vocabulary. Cavities … are just cavities, no matter how much your dentist might tsk at you about flossing.

Last night my small group met, and we got to this passage in our Bible study:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable … “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

Aside from the hilarity of hearing Jesus say (roughly) “you eat then you shit,” this passage has a place in my heart because it’s the exact opposite of what Christian culture generally communicates. Don’t watch R-rated movies. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t listen to “bad” music. The implicit idea is these things are capable of defiling you … except Jesus says they can’t, that it’s only defiling actions that matter, and he lists some pretty obvious ones.

I especially loved this passage last night, the night before my dentist appointment, because Jesus is responding to the Pharisees freaking out about him not washing his hands. Jesus is saying “look, y’all, whether or not I wash my hands has nothing to do with whether or not I’m a good person. The only thing that matters is whether or not I do good, loving things.”

Whether or not I have a cavity can’t say anything about my character. Whether or not you exercise, or clean, or diet, or whatever,  doesn’t say anything about yours.

Theology

this is your brain on fundamentalism

I grew up in Christian fundamentalism, and now I’m a progressive Christian. Surprisingly, at least to me, that particular path is an unusual one, although probably not rare. Speaking from personal observation, it seems like the more usual route out of Christian fundamentalism isn’t liberal Christianity, but atheism.

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a lot of atheists out there who gave up on their religion, but didn’t give up fundamentalism. A little while ago I remarked on Twitter that it seems like atheists have more in common with Christian fundamentalists in their views on the Bible than they do with me. A few people were surprised by this. In short, it can be summed up by a saying in survivor communities: you can take the person out of a fundamentalism, but you can’t always take fundamentalism out of the person.

What I’m not saying is that this is inevitable– many of my close friends are atheists/agnostics who went through a time of being progressive Christians first. Their ultimate problem wasn’t fundamentalism, really, it was lack of belief. I think that’s true of most (if not all) atheists, even the ones who haven’t let go of a fundamentalist understanding of religion; they may not like their understanding of Christianity, but that’s not why they’re atheists.

It’s perpetually frustrating to me, though, that there’s a certain movement of atheists that brand me as an idiot because I’m religious, or that I’m incapable of being reasonable or logical because I have faith. To this type of atheist, if I don’t accept fundamentalist Christianity as the Only True Way of being a Christian, I’m being inconsistent. Over the course of many conversations, I’ve usually found out that they were at one point Christian fundamentalists.

They may not believe in god anymore, but many never stopped to examine the root claims of the belief system they were raised in. They still think the fundamentalists are right about Christianity– and about how to parse evidence. Part of the reason many argue the way they do is that they’re still operating inside of a fundamentalist mindset, only without religion. To many, Modernism is the only “correct” way to reason, and Truth and demonstrable, provable, physical fact are inseparable.

I was fortunate in the way my faith evolved. I started embracing my questions and doubts after I married a person who holds the feet of every single idea to the fire. He tries to smash every argument to bits to see if it’s worth making. He interrogates a question from every angle and won’t be happy until he’s thought about a new concept from multiple perspectives. All of that prompted me to do the same, and the end result is that I didn’t use the same framework I’d always used to evaluate evidence and questions. I didn’t rely purely on Modernist reasoning in order to deconstruct my faith system and start building it back up.

I’m drawn to dichotomies, to absolutes, to if then statements, and either or views of reality. Part of that is the fact that I’m an ISTJ with a heavily dominant sensing preference, but the biggest reason is that I grew up a fundamentalist. I want things to either be true or false, right or wrong, provable or poppycock. To this day, there are moments where I have to fight with myself to acknowledge that more than one thing can be True at the same time, even though they may seem contradictory. I have to force myself to live in the tension, to think of arguments as a matter of degree and nuance rather than totally right or totally wrong.

On the other hand, it’s almost as equally frustrating when people don’t understand fundamentalism, and what it does to people. They don’t know that fundamentalists are ruled by logical consistency before any other consideration. What may seem like utter nonsense to you or me makes perfect sense if you understand the premise they’re working with and follow it to its conclusion.

Take the fact that fundamentalists can be gigantic assholes to their friends and family. To an outsider, it may seem like we did nothing but endlessly bully and criticize each other– how in the world could we possibly be friends, let alone like each other? If they were to ask me when I was a fundamentalist why I behaved like this, I would’ve said “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” along with a quip about how being harsh and exacting is the only way to be loving. That sounds absurd to the rest of us — being an asshole is not loving– but to them, it’s the only possible outcome. You must “edify” your friends toward righteousness. Anything less is the opposite of loving.

Or, another example: the fact that a lot of fundamentalist/conservative Christians think that an LGBT person who isn’t celibate or resisting same-sex attraction can’t possibly be a Christian. It goes like this:

  1. Being a Christian means being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Holy Spirit pricks your conscience when you sin.
  3. God the Father chastens his children for their sin.
  4. Same-sex attraction (or acting on it) is a sin.
  5. Therefore, if you do not feel convicted or chastened or guilty, you are not a Christian.

This works out to the almost desperate measures many Christians take to show how sinful LGBT people are. Unless LGBT  people acknowledge that what they’re doing is sin, they cannot be saved. You have to repent of your sin. They must show us this, or we will die and burn in hell for all eternity, and what kind of person would they be if they just sat by and “tolerated” us? If they didn’t do everything they could, no matter how awful it may seem to others, to save the lost LGBT people how could they sleep at night?

Ergo, Christians think that their bigotry and hatred is loving. This is why they can say “love the sinner, hate the sin” and feel that there’s no inconsistency between their words and their actions. They’re trying to save us from eternal damnation. If you believe that I’m destined to that fate unless I turn from my bisexuality, seemingly extreme measures are necessary in order to be loving. It’s like that old “poisoned cookie” illustration– if you know someone’s about to eat a poisoned cookie and die, leaping across the room and smacking it out of their hand is the only logical action to take, no matter how “foolish” it might appear to others.

Fundamentalism isn’t populated by unreasonable people; the problem is that they’re all too reasonable. If you don’t understand this, then a lot of other things are going to appear bizarre. Why are evangelicals supporting Trump? Why does Cruz not have a problem with pastors who want to stone LGBT people to death? Why is Islamaphobia such an issue in movement atheism? Why do MRAs want to legalize rape? Why can’t women drive in Saudi Arabia? Why are some feminists TERFs?

To fight a thing, you have to know a thing. And that’s not just an external fight, either– I believe there’s a battle for fundamentalism going on inside each of us. In many ways, it’s far easier to fall into dichotomies and binaries than it is to resist them. Harsh dualities help us make sense of complex problems. But … we can’t let ourselves fall into those traps, because that’s when we start to lose compassion and let our heads overtake our hearts.

Photo by Mike
Social Issues

socialization isn’t a freaking joke

If you’ve been around homeschooling culture for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with how they tend to make fun of “socialization.” When I was growing up as a homeschooled kid, I had “20 Snappy Comebacks” prepared in case I overheard someone asking “b-but but what about socialization?!” I’d been taught– and was firmly convinced– that when people asked about socialization it sprang from a place of ignorance about homeschooling. When you homeschool, I believed, you’re not just limited to interact with people from your grade level, but with children and adults of all ages. Through church (and, theoretically, co-ops, although I only attended one in 2nd grade), we got all the social interaction we could possibly want.

It’s ironic to me now that while I thought that other people were ignorant if they asked me about socialization (which, honest moment, they never did, probably because of how incredibly isolated I was), the fact of the matter is that most homeschoolers who dismiss socialization as a legitimate question are also being ignorant.

Socialization isn’t just “learning to talk to people like a regular human.” It’s not “having friends.” It’s not “engage in social activities.” Socialization is “the process whereby an individual learns to adjust to a group (or society) and behave in a manner approved by the group (or society).” I’ve talked about my own experience with socialization before, and one thing I can confidently say is that if we’re talking about fundamentalism, then I am socialized extremely well. I know how to walk the walk and talk the talk. I know what the acceptable behaviors and language are. I was taught to be extremely well-suited to that environment.

However, now that I’m not in fundamentalism anymore, I am not well socialized. I struggle understanding what the group parameters are, and one of the biggest struggles I face is that I have no metric whatsoever for analyzing my behavior. Was I polite? No idea. Did I hurt someones’ feelings? Not a clue. Did I do or say something weird or awkward? Can’t say. I’m slowly learning how to operate in casual social settings, but there is always a sliver of me that’s panicking the entire time that I’m going to blow it and expose myself as the weird homeschool kid.

But there’s another aspect to this “socialization” question that I’ve yet to see addressed.

Above I noted that I am extremely well socialized to operate in fundamentalist spaces, so I am intimately familiar with what’s required to achieve that and it bothers me.

Every once in a while, I’ll bump into someone commenting on how “well-behaved your children are!” Sometimes it’s people talking about how polite and happy and well-mannered all the Duggar children appear to be. A few years ago I overheard it at a not-fundamentalist church, and it was directed at a mom in a denim jumper with six kids and– no joke– No Greater Joy sticking out of her diaper bag for some reason. “Well-mannered children” is part and parcel of fundamentalist socialization, and there’s a fairly uniform code for what that means:

  • instant obedience
  • obedience with a “good attitude”
  • joyfulness
  • respectful of elders
  • lack of rebellion (individuation)
  • are faithful, diligent members of the religion

The main problem I have with the above is all those people complimenting fundamentalist parents on “well-mannered” children have no freaking idea what it takes to achieve children who behave like that. Children are supposed to be imaginative and express their identity and be unruly and rambunctious and explore and be curious and filled with wonder and sometimes be grumpy and unhappy and annoying.

The methods used to create children who are always smiling, who always obey instantly, who never go through individuation, who never talk back– they should horrify us because they are nightmarish. In order to achieve this, you have to beat infants. You have to strike your children multiple times a day with a switch or a board or a belt. Age-appropriate exploration must be prevented at all costs– either through things like blanket training or slapping a baby every time they reach for a necklace or your hair. You must subject your infant or toddler to brutal physical punishment every single time they show a disavowed form of curiosity about their environment.

For older children and teenagers, you have to completely disallow any form of individuality. They must agree with everything you teach them. Doubts and questions are forbidden. If they attempt to express their own identity, they must be bullied by other members of the fundamentalist community to immediately stamp it out.

Being socialized as a fundamentalist child means being horribly abused. It means being denied any natural part of growing up. So, yes, fundamentalist homeschool families are socializing their children– socialization, really, is inevitable– it’s just what they’re socializing them to. Fundamentalist homeschoolers are largely incapable of socializing their children to be capable, competent, contributing members of society because socializing them in fundamentalism precludes that.

Remember that next time you hear someone comment how cute and quaint and charming the Duggar family is.

Artwork by David Bliwas
Social Issues

despising our youth: ageism in fundamentalist culture

In the fundamentalist cult I spent the bulk of my childhood in, encouraging the young people toward being an active part of the church community was one of the supposedly important goals. At one point, we moved toward a more “family integrated” model, and the “pastor” eliminated any separate activity for the teenagers. We no longer had our own Sunday school, and “youth group”-type events were basically outlawed. The idea was that too many teenagers were disconnecting from church once they reached adulthood, that they expected “youth group” to continue all their life. Welp, that wasn’t going to happen in our church, no sirrey.

At around the same time we started having “Youth Night” one Sunday evening a month. For that service, the kids and teenagers would do everything– lead the music, make the music, usher, pray, and preach. In theory I still think it was a solid idea. If only the adults in our church treated the teenagers with anything approaching respect.

I’ve talked about my experience as a teenager in fundamentalism before, about how I was given the nickname “sub-adult” after a game of cards. That label was humiliating, especially since it was used by the various adults at church to humiliate me. They used it against me any time I did something to make my presence known– like have an opinion, or assert my own wants or needs, or make a suggestion.

A little while ago I was having a conversation with my mother about that “sub-adult” moniker, and she said “well, you were doing something immature,” and what came erupting out of me shocked me with the truth of it:

“Yeah, maybe I was being immature. But so was she. Calling someone names isn’t exactly a mark of maturity. I was a teenager– some immaturity is normal, and should be a teaching moment, but no one ever called her on the fact that she was being cruel and petty. No, she was the ‘adult,’ so whatever she did I had to accept.”

That’s when it struck me that as much as being tortured with a humiliating nickname hurt me growing up, I’d never really questioned the authority of the adults to do that. All that time, while I inwardly seethed, it was mostly internal: I was largely angry with myself for failing to be the flawless young person they demanded. It never really occurred to me to that I question their behavior, or call it what it was: they were worse than bullies– adults using playground tactics to attack a child.

It never occurred to me because it would never in a million years have occurred to them that they could be wrong about how they treated their children and teenagers. Being the adult was what made them right. I’d been forced to accepted ageism as just a fact of life.

The worst thing is that this attitude hasn’t even remotely changed, regardless of how old I become. In interactions I have with older fundamentalists (and, frequently, more moderate Christians), the fact that I’m twenty-eight, married, with multiple degrees and plenty of life experience in things they’ll never understand (like being an abuse victim and queer) … none of it matters. They were an adult when I was a child and that’s it for them.

Recently, Slate published an article by Jessica Huseman on the ways the Homeschool Legal Defense Association has made it almost impossible to protect homeschool children from abuse. When Huseman questioned Farris (the founder of HSLDA) about people like me who are advocating for more oversight and protection for homeschool children, this is what he had to say:

He dismissed both organizations outright, calling them “a group of bitter young people” who are “fighting against home schooling … to work out their own issues with their parents.”

He’s talking about HARO and CRHE, organizations that were both founded by fully-grown adults, men and women in their 30s, who are married, who have children. For comparison, Michael Farris was 32 when he founded HSLDA. And yet we’re the “bitter young people.”

I was told all my life to “let no man despise thy youth,” but if there’s been something made perfectly clear to me over the last few years is that there are always limits to what “The Adults” are willing to tolerate. They think we’re fantastic when we’re bashing each other, writing think pieces on just how entitled millennials are. Write a post on how young people these days are just so willing to abandon orthodoxy and they will share the shit out of that.

But disagree? State a strong opinion? Assert that your views and experience matter and … nope. End of all civil discourse with them. The second we’re not bobbleheads, we’re “bitter young people.”

It took me a long time to realize that I can look at the words, actions, and beliefs of other adults and interact with them as another adult. No, I don’t have 50-60 years of being alive on this planet, but I do have experiences with something many adults will never have. I was raised in a cult. I grew up as a bisexual woman in Christian culture. I experienced a modern incarnation of purity culture that they didn’t have to live through. I came of age in a completely different economic reality. I’ve been through the process of completely re-evaluating every single last thing I believe.

I am the authority on my life, and I am a person, and that makes me equal. It means that my point of view and perspective matters just as much as anyone else.

Photo by Ciokka
Uncategorized

This is what ATI teaches families like the Duggars

A few months ago, when the news initially broke about Josh sexually abusing his sisters and others, I wrote a post that examined some of the reasons why his parents were able to cover up what he’d done so effectively: the purity culture they raised their children in blames women for their own assaults. Specifically, they used a program created by Bill Gothard, a man known for sexually harassing women and minors (Josh Duggar received his “counseling” from Gothard’s ministry). This program is known as the Advanced Training Institute (ATI).

I was able to include some of the material that laid out ATI’s approach to counseling abuse victims, and it is horrific. Well, today I’d like to share a few more pieces of information, because it lays out all the reasons why the Duggars (or anyone like them) should not be allowed within spitting distance of TLC’s upcoming documentary.

ati 1

Salient quote:

Do you know what provokes attacks?

  • Evaluate Dress
  • Choose friends Wisely

ati 2

Salient quote:

God has established some very strict guidelines or responsibility for a woman who is attacked. She is to cry out for help. The victim who fails to do so is equally guilty with the attacker.

I decided a long time ago that if that is who God is, I want nothing to do with them. That God is an absolute monster, but that’s the sort of God that fundamentalist families like the Duggars believes exists.

ati 4

Salient quote:

A woman was startled one night by an intruder who broke into her apartment. The attacker stated his intentions, and she replied “You’ll have to kill me first because I’ve given my body and my life to the Lord.”

In this culture it is actually preferable for a woman to die than to “lose her virginity,” even through rape.

~ ~ ~

The Duggars aren’t the only family in America to follow and believe these ideas. The ATI annual conferences see thousands of attendees, and the intersections between fundamentalist Christianity and conservative politics are numerous and influential. This isn’t something we can hold up as an example of extreme fundamentalism gone so wrong it’s easy to make fun of. This shit is serious, and important, because the people who believe these things aren’t fringe. Misogyny and victim-blaming are part of the core values of the homeschooling and Tea Party movements, and that shouldn’t be dismissed.

Social Issues

I was a grammar nazi, and I was wrong

My first year in graduate school was … enlightening. As I’ve learned since then, being informed of how terribly wrong you are about basically everything is not a fun experience, although I am thankful for it. When I enrolled at Liberty, I expected it to be a bit like my experience at Pensacola Christian, and in many ways I wasn’t too far off. Liberty and PCC have a lot more in common than I think the administrations of either place would care to admit.

However, one of the downsides of that assumption was that I thought the people who surrounded me held similar ideologies as the people I’d left behind at PCC– after all, I was still at a conservative Christian college, it couldn’t be that different, right?

I was disabused of that notion in various ways, but I don’t think any experience I had was quite as humiliating as the day I tried to argue that using correct grammar was a Christian moral imperative, that being lackadaisical about grammar was a sin. I will never forget the look on a colleague’s face as he bounced up out of his cubicle with a startled “you have got to be kidding me!” He tore into my argument like the tissue paper it absolutely was, and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. I have never had an argument eviscerated like that– not before, not since.

Thank heavens I had the appropriate reaction. I had been rather bluntly forced to acknowledge that I didn’t actually know anything about grammar, and I needed to rectify that. I went straight to the professor who taught the advanced grammar classes at Liberty and asked if I could sit in the back. He, very graciously, said yes.

The first day he was teaching diagramming, although it was completely unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I was used to this:

diagramming sentences

But what he had up on the board that day looked like this:

sentence diagramming 2

And that was the day when I realized that linguistics isn’t of the devil.

~~~~~~~~~

Through my high school and undergraduate days, all of my grammar education came through A Beka, which is published by Pensacola Christian. I can’t speak authoritatively for other curriculum, but from what I’ve gathered through my peers, what other Christian homeschool curriculum and fundamentalist Christian colleges teach isn’t substantively different.

I was taught that there is a moral difference between prescriptivist and descriptivist grammar. The problem all started with “post-modern ideologies” that affected the way people see language and communication, and it all came to a head with Merriam-Webster’s Third Edition. Dictionaries are supposed to tell you the “correct” spelling for a word, but the Third went and changed it all by refusing to say whether or not a spelling was correct. Over time “correct” and “incorrect” have been replaced by “preferred” or “standard formal.”

This is a huge problem, according to conservative Christians, and the rationale goes something like this:

  • Christians are “people of the book,” as our Gospel was delivered to us through the medium of language.
  • Evangelization depends on clear and effective communication.
  • Clear and effective communication is best maintained by teaching “correct” grammar and syntax.
  • Therefore, failure to teach grammar is detrimental to the Gospel.

PCC’s favorite example of this was the “Old Deluder Act” of 1647, which is the legislation that created public schooling in the Massachusetts colony. According to the stated intention of the law, children needed to learn to read so that they could read the Bible as Satan would be able to use their lack of education to keep them from the Scriptures.

Same thing, PCC said, only now it’s Satan trying to confuse us all by getting rid of good grammar. Because, y’know, Satan is totally the one responsible for “confusing the languages.”

~~~~~~~~

It’s probably not surprising to my long-term readers that I thrived in that environment. There are a million infinitesimal rules about grammar? Yes, please! I’m assigned a project (that includes instructions down to the last excruciating detail) on evaluating ten different dictionaries and grammar handbooks? Can I do it again? Can I do more than ten? I was good at being a grammar nazi at PCC, and I expected that skill to translate well in other environments.

Except it didn’t. It actually hurt me.

If there is any more ironic than people who call themselves “grammar nazis,” I’d like to know what it is, because there are few things more racist and classist than the insistence on “correct” grammar. Putting such a harsh divide between “good” and “bad” grammar means placing upper-class educated white language as “superior” to  other dialects like AAVE.

It results in things like dismissing people like Rachel Jeantel as credible witnesses because they sound different than what upper-class educated white people think of as “good English.” I’ve listened to Rachel’s statements, and they made perfect, coherent sense. I was more than fully capable of understanding her, but the American public responded to her perfectly legitimate testimony by calling her a “thug.” Because she speaks a different dialect than upper-class white people.

Aside from all of that, I’m actually pretty upset about the fact that learning about flat adverbs or copula deletion would have been verboten. Grammar is a fascinating thing that isn’t limited to learning the parts of speech and how to diagram a sentence, but that’s about all I got out of it. Oh, I could tell you all about retained objects and nominative case, but what is that when compared to the beautiful, growing, organic, and interconnective wonder that is the English language?

Christian fundamentalism does a lot of things, but one of the worst things it does is put us all into tiny intellectual boxes with no room to expand.

Photo by Jon Fife

Theology

trickle-down cults

~~~~~~~~~

I grew up in a cult.

~~~~~~~~~~

That’s what I say when I have to start explaining my life to someone. As a phrase it carries a lot of baggage, but even so, it’s the easiest and most straightforward way I have to start my story. Generally I have to walk the person back from visions of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but as loaded as the word “cult” is, it still applies to my life. According to the research of people like Michael Langone, the Independent Fundamental Baptist church I attended for a dozen years fit 13 out of 15 qualifiers. So while I didn’t live in a bunker or on a compound, there’s really no other way to explain what seems like insanity to people with “normal” lives.

For a long time, even after I started blogging, I went out of my way to make clear that it was just my church that was fucked up. Not all IFB churches are unhealthy or cultist, not every fundamentalist church is abusive.

I have since changed my mind.

That change started when I was able to connect the dots between the teachings I absorbed in the tiny little church I was brought up in and the larger movement. The cult leader isolated us from the rest of the fundamentalism, making us all extremely wary of theologians and their “false doctrines,” so I grew up with him being my only example of a fundamentalist pastor. Other churches in our area, no matter how conservative, were suspect; even when we attended revivals or camp meetings everything was filtered through a lens of what my pastor wanted me to absorb.

So I grew up reading C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, was surrounded by ICR and AiG materials, but I had never heard of people like Bill Gothard. I never went to a homeschooling convention, a NCFCA debate, or an ATI/IBLP conference. I had no idea that the words coming out of my pastor’s mouth were stolen from Rushdoony or Doug Philips or Geoffrey Botkin. I didn’t know that the “umbrella of protection”–referring to how the father is supposedly a daughter’s only protection from the evils of The World– came right out of one of Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminar textbooks.

Christian fundamentalism is absolutely and inherently abusive. It is and has always been. As a theological and ideological system it is irredeemable. As Micah Murray put it so eloquently yesterday, “it’s time to burn this motherfucker down.”

In order to argue this, I’m going to rely on the checklist compiled by Drs. Janja Lilich and Michael Langone.

  • The movement has an unquestioning, uncritical commitment to the ideological system. It is upheld as “Truth,” and is treated as absolute.

This is a core element of Christian fundamentalism. Become familiar with any of the materials, the curriculum, the sermons, and one thing that instantly jumps out at you is how utterly convinced they are that they have a unique access to The Truth. This belief is supported by the argument that only true Christians are capable of actually understanding the Bible. Someone who isn’t a true Christian will be incapable of interpreting the Bible correctly and will merely see it as “foolish.” The proof text verse for this is I Corinthians 2:14.

  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Please see this post, which covers that point extensively. The proof text verse for this is John 20:29.

  • The movement dictates in excruciating minutiae exactly how Christians are to live their lives.

There are prescriptions for how your marriage is to function (see the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). Some fundamentalists adhere to a strange form of kosher, and almost all fundamentalists tell you what you can’t drink. Depending on the environment, people are told exactly how to groom themselves. For people who follow Bill Gothard, the women are to have long curly hair through whatever means necessary. At most fundamentalist colleges or seminaries, men have to be clean-shaven. Strictures on “modesty” vary, but each church has their specific rules that are usually laced with a heavy dose of racism and fatphobia. How you are to raise your children is dictated– whether you follow James Dobson, the Ezzos, the Pearls, or whoever. Proof text verse for this is I Peter 2:9.

  • The movement has an “it’s us against the world” mentality.

See: the culture wars. The “War on Christmas.” Cries of “persecution” for ridiculous things. Fundamentalist leaders teach a concept called Dominionism, which should absolutely horrify every red-blooded American. Michael Farris called fundamentalist Millennials “Generation Joshua” because we are supposed to go to war with the Canaan of modern, “secular humanist” America. Proof text verse is Ephesians 6:12.

  • The leaders of the movement have no accountability.

This is the one that makes me, personally, the most uncomfortable. Unlike ministers in the mainline Protestant denominations who are at leas theoretically held in check by a system meant to encourage, edify, instruct, and reprimand, fundamentalist pastors have nothing like that. There’s a reason why Independent Fundamental Baptists call themselves that: they are unbelievably proud of how they can’t be “controlled” by anyone or anything– my church lifted our noses at the Southern Baptist Convention, as loose an organization as that is. The leaders of fundamentalism are forces unto themselves, and they answer to no one. II Corinthians 6:14 is the proof text for this.

  • The movement relies on shame to control.

A good introduction to the “lethality of shame” is Brene Brown’s TedTalk “Listening to Shame.” Fundamentalists rely almost exclusively on shame as their motivation for ethics and morality. In Christian fundamentalist theology, humans are incapable of truly responding to positive motivators like trust or love. According to them, each of us is a lowly worm that must be brutalized into compliance. This springs from the belief that we’re basically all a hair’s breadth away from being a child molester. Proof text verse: Psalm 22:6.

  • Joining fundamentalism means that you must sever ties with “ungodly” family and close friends.

A huge part of what it means to be a fundamentalist is a commitment to radical “holiness.” The promise of fundamentalism is that you will be happy, that you will be fulfilled, that your family will be protected from The World and The Devil; in exchange, all you have to do is obey everything they say and believe everything they tell you to believe without question. In order to accomplish this, however, you must remove any ungodly influence from your life that could “corrupt your good manners.” Being “separated” means you have to fill your life with the fundamentalist community and nothing else. The proof text verse is Luke 14:26.

  • Once you are a part of the movement, leaving becomes extraordinarily difficult.

There are multiple reasons for this– if you were brought up in it like me, fundamentalism is the only thing you’ve ever known and anything “outside” it seems terrifying. They are the only people you’ve ever associated with; not only that, but you’ve been taught that everyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is hell-bent on destroying you. It can be extremely overwhelming, trying to process all the lies and half-truths. Wrestling these things out is the reason why this blog exists, and why I spent an entire year writing out my story of coming to terms with all the ways fundamentalism had warped me (first post starts is here).

~~~~~~~~~

To me, all of that is conclusive. Christian fundamentalism is intended to be a high-control totalitarian religious environment. If that doesn’t make it a cult, I don’t know what would.

Photo by Ivy Dawned
Theology

poptarts taste like freedom

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve been watching through Gilmore Girls for the first time, although Handsome and I have been distracted by listening to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time on audiobook. One of the episodes we watched recently, included Lorelai having a bit of an epiphany about her likes and dislikes. In a conversation with Sookie, she says that the first time she ever had a PopTart, “it tasted like freedom.” She wonders if perhaps some of her favorite things are simply a result of wanting them because her mother said she couldn’t have them.

As I watched, I told Handsome “oh, I hope they deal with this more because I think this is something Lorelai really needs to work out.” So far, they haven’t addressed it again, but it got me to thinking some about the choices I’ve made in my life. I’ve enjoyed some of the things that I’ve done because fundamentalism told me I shouldn’t.

Take Star Wars for example.

I saw the original trilogy when I was about seven, and I remember having a dramatic emotional response. When we got to the scene at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, I turned to my father, sobbing, and declared “he just can’t be his daddy! He can’t be!” I was somewhat traumatized by this revelation, and was grief-stricken all the way through Return of the Jedi.

I sort of forgot about it, though, because we watched Jurassic Park the next day and I had nightmares about goats for a while. When I was eleven, though, The Phantom Menace came out, and Dad– who’d grown up with Star Wars— decided that we were going to break the “no good Christian ever goes to a movie theater ever for any reason ever” rule. It was made very clear to me and my sister that we were not to bring it up with anyone at church. In fact, just to be safe, don’t talk about it with anyone.

As I sat there and slowly fell in love with Obi-Wan Kenobi (I have a crush on Ewan McGregor to this day, it’s why I like gingers so much), I could feel myself becoming enchanted. I was hooked, obsessed. I found out about the Jedi Apprentice series and read them a few pages at a time whenever we were in a book store. I checked out Star Wars-related encyclopedias from the library and memorized ever factoid. When we got the internet, I discovered starwars.com and theforce.net and became heavily involved in the fan community, especially fan fiction. I read every single thing ever posted on starwarschicks.com and the Jedi Apprentice Fan Dimsension (one story in particular, “Sabre Dance,” ended up being my introduction to smut– I enjoyed the story on JAFD and found the not-safe-for-children sequel the author had written).

But now, as an adult, while I still love the films and will definitely be fangirling out my ass in December when I go see The Force Awakens, that obsession has … abated. Perhaps a part of it is that I’m no longer a teenager, but a part of me is sure that I’m not as obsessed with it because there’s no one in my life telling me I’m not allowed to be.

~~~~~~~~~~

When I was in graduate school, I started experimenting. For people who had a “typical” American childhood, you probably went through something similar when you were in high school. I started flexing my decision-making muscles, testing limits, all of that. I made some bad decisions, did some things that weren’t good for me– nothing too bad, but things that in retrospect make me grimace a little bit in either embarrassment or regret. I think that was a healthy thing for me to go through, as I didn’t know anything about myself, really. A bit like Kimmy Schmidt, I’d been trapped in an invisible box all my life and I wanted to experience life.

However, some of the choices I made were a literal middle finger to fundamentalism and pretty much nothing more than that. I tried to be ok with movies (like Planet Terror) that made me uncomfortable because of their overt sexualization of women. I did the bump-and-grind with a few guys even though they sort of creeped me out, and I dismissed those feelings because I chalked them up to my fundamentalist programming. I did that a lot, actually– if I had a negative reaction to something, I’d tell myself get over it, Sam, it’s nothing– this is fine. Just because your Sunday school teacher would be horrified doesn’t mean this is bad.

That was an important thing to learn to differentiate. Some things I react to because fundamentalist!brain goes into overdrive and teams up with JerkBrain to make me feel like shit for having fun. Other times I’m reacting because there’s legitimately something wrong. That show is portraying abuse. This comedian is sexist. That article minimizes the harmful effects of destructive theology.

A few weekends ago I went to a club for the first time in my life, and I had a blast. It was a local event mainly for lesbian and bisexual women, and it was awesome to be in a safe space like that. The DJ played a few songs I like (dancing to Icona Pop’s “I Love It” is fun), I got a little tipsy (don’t do Kahlua as a shot. Just … don’t), I danced with a few of my girlfriends, and had a pretty fantastic night.

It was also simultaneously miserable. I’m an introvert, so being in a crowded club filled with strangers? AHHHH. Loud, base-throbbing music sends my anxiety through the roof? AHHHHHHH. Flashing lights induce a headache? AHHHHHHHHHHHH. Dancing in heels? Who the hell thought that was a good idea? Oh, right, me. Should’ve known a club full of queer people would have involved Converse for most and my attempt to “fit in” just made me head-and-shoulders taller than basically everyone (at 5’8″ I already stand out in a room full of women).

But I’d figured out that my “oh, ok, I’m done, I want to go home now” feelings weren’t because fundamentalist!brain was telling me to. I wanted to go home and go to bed because I know myself. I know that loud noises and flashing lights and lots of people just aren’t my cup of tea for extended periods.

This is something fundamentalism robs us of. Being able to make decisions based on who you are and what you like doesn’t even begin to enter the picture. You do things because God (coughpastorcough) tells you to. You don’t do things because God (coughbullshitcough) tells you not to. That’s the only thing involved in making decisions, and while I understand how easy and comfortable and safe that can make us feel, it’s also the everyday equivalent of being trapped in an underground bunker.

Photo by Kaylan Chakravarthy
Theology

how in the world did I change my mind?

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.

 Photo by Jason Bötter
Social Issues

"Gilmore Girls" and child abuse

Two of the many things I missed out on during my we-didn’t-have-TV childhood were Friends and Gilmore Girls. I’m in the process of rectifying it– thank you very much Netflix– and so far it’s been pretty fun. I really enjoy the way the characters interact with each other, especially how much Lorelai really is almost exactly like her mother … if her mother had pink-furry-telephone taste. I’m also enjoying Rachel’s sudden introduction to paying taxes.

Every single time I see Mrs. Kim in an episode of Gilmore Girls, though, my stomach sinks. There’s the obvious negative stereotypes about Asian “tiger mothers,” and the way it’s obviously meant to play off as humorous reads as racist to me, mostly because her character is incredibly flat (at least so far, but after reading quite a bit of material about her, I don’t think they develop her into a truly nuanced, complex character).

However, that’s not my biggest problem with Mrs. Kim. My biggest problem is that she’s an abusive mother– and that her abuse is accepted as normal, as her “right” to behave as Lane’s parent. In an early episode, Lorelai approaches Mrs. Kim to give her some advice about not smothering Lane, but she premises it with the idea that Mrs. Kim has every right as Lane’s mother to parent her in whatever way she sees fit.

And it’s not just the characters in the show that think what Mrs. Kim does is ok:

It’s also important to note that Mrs. Kim’s choices as a parent were never shamed or undermined … Lane was largely respectful of her mother’s decisions and rules for her life—and so, too, was the narrative of the show.

I want to be very clear that I think it is entirely possible for parents to be very ambitious for their children, to set very high goals for their children, and to do and say many of the things that Mrs. Kim says and does to Lane, and not be abusive.

However, what Mrs. Kim does crosses the line from “ambitious” to controlling, manipulative, coercive, and abusive. Every single last second in her daughter’s life is under the iron fist of her mother, and Lane is given no space to be her own person. I look at the life that Lane is living and in it, I see reflections of the expectations I lived under in a fundamentalist cult. Somehow Lane goes to public school and manages to hide rock music and rouge under the floor boards of her bedroom, but she is terrified of her mother ever finding out about who she actually is.

This is one of the things that fundamentalist parenting techniques don’t explain: there is a whole-wide-world of difference between love and acceptance. Mrs. Kim might love Lane, but she does not accept Lane. If she knew anything about who Lane wanted to be or the things that Lane loves, she would flip out and ground her for weeks on end– and frequently does.

The thing that finally got me was the episode when Lane finally tells her mother about Henry Cho, the conservative-Christian-wants-to-be-a-doctor-Korean-boy. At the end of the episode, Lane calls Rory on a pay phone and tells her that her mother has convinced her teachers that she will be “homeschooled” for two weeks. In reality, she’s not being homeschooled, she’s being punished.

Mrs. Kim uses lax homeschooling regulations in order to isolate her daughter.

There are plenty of amazing reasons to homeschool; because you don’t think they’ll receive a good enough education, because they’re being bullied … however, “homeschooling” is not something you can take advantage of as a punitive measure in order to dominate and control your children. Homeschooling is not there to be used by parents who don’t like something their child has done and wants to take ‘grounding’ to terrifying levels.

That the show laughs at all of this is nauseating. I wish I could explain all the millions of tiny little things that make my hair stand on end; but any women who grew up in Christian fundamentalism, with marriage being the only end goal allowed and parents that scream at you every time you do something that shows how you are a person different from them … we know.

We see Lane and we see flickers of ourselves.

Photo belongs to Warner Bros.