I grew up in a small midwestern town. My life and family pretty much resembled a stereotypical midwestern family…with one exception. I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist home. My entire upbringing, Christian fundamentalists (referred to as fundies from here forward) completely surrounded me.
Fundies, if you aren’t aware, are fantastically bizarre creatures. They live quite obsessed with their beliefs and have little connection with the world outside of fundamentalism. Because of this, they have some pretty strange beliefs about how non-fundies live. They do not like to be criticized or questioned…this is one of the worst crimes one can commit (you know, besides the big one…being GAY).
They come in a few different varieties. The kind I grew up with liked to get together every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. During these gatherings, it is quite typical for them to raise their hands into the air and wave them around, to dance, to run around the sanctuary, to scream, to speak in tongues, to sob, to kneel, to shout a prophetic word for everyone to hear, to become slain in the spirit (to fall down limp onto the floor as if they have lost consciousness), and any other myriad of other strange activities depending on the latest trends.
As I grew up, they taught a few basic ideals rooted in fundie philosophy: homosexuality is a terrible abomination to be approached with sheer disgust. Feminism is a rebellion against God lead by women who refuse to accept their God-given place in the world (which is, of course, below men). The theory of evolution is unfounded with no supporting data and exists only due to a mass conspiracy amongst the scientific community meticulously designed and carried out in order to deceive people into becoming atheists. Abortion is the equivalent of murder, and mothers who have chosen abortion deserve punishments equal to that of committing murder. America is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. Thus, when they use the term freedom of religion, they only mean freedom of the Christian religion…our forefathers never meant equal freedoms for other religions. And speaking of our forefathers, they were all very devout Christians that fled England to create a Christian theocracy. And woe to America today for turning against our theocratic beginnings. Sex before marriage is strictly forbidden. It’s almost as bad as being gay…but not quite…because nothing is worse than that. In some circles, even kissing before marriage is frowned upon, as kissing will lead to sexual temptation. Do not ever drink alcohol. Do not ever smoke. Do not ever do drugs. If you do any of these things to any degree, they will certainly destroy your life.
This was my world. And, during my younger years, I believed it…fully and completely. My dad suffered from quite severe depression and this profoundly impacted my life as I grew up. My dad never received treatment for his depression because the primary religious leaders of that time declared that spiritual problems caused mental illness, and prayer and Bible devotion provided the cure. Medications and the various therapies were not ordained by God and were untrustworthy. In response to the struggles I went through because of my dad’s depression, they taught me to turn to Jesus for help and support. I did. It helped to believe someone that loved me stood with me all the time to help with anything I needed. I believed everything had a God given purpose. So, even in hard times, I found comfort in the thought that a reason, even if unknown, justified my pain.
Yet, as time passed, and I moved toward adulthood, things just didn’t feel quite right. I could never put my finger on it exactly. Something just always felt amiss. I believed I needed to pray more, read the Bible more, and become closer to God. Then, things would fall into place, and this nagging feeling would go away.
I even went to Bible College at the age of 18. I hated it. And I mean I seriously fucking hated it. Every moment. But, I did finish, and I graduated. I didn’t hate studying the Bible. But, all the theology, the reasons people believed this and that, and the controversies between the various Christian denominations bored me into near comatose states.
Over the next few years, I slowly came upon the realization that my childhood teachings may not be true. The incomprehensibility of the mere thought of this required a few years to process. It would mean almost everything I’d ever known would no longer exist as a part of me. The prospect of leaving all things familiar behind and venturing out into an unknown world I did not understand terrified me. And what if I was wrong, and this was simply a test of my faith? To fail that test would mean burning in hell forever. Could I take that risk? I needed certainty.
Around this time, I decided to return to school. Quite a strange experience lead me to this decision. Feeling lost and not knowing what to do, I had a dream. In this dream, I attended college. And while doing so, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I was happy and fulfilled. I belonged. I woke in the middle of the night from the dream feeling elated. I did not need to gradually accept this idea. The decision to return to school was sudden and instantaneous. I knew it was right.
It did take a little time to to choose a course of study. Skipping a long story, I decided to study psychology, an area of interest I’d long had. I ended up at a Jesuit university and fell in love with it from day one. In this pursuit, I took a general science course about genetics and evolution. It solidified what I’d been wondering. What I’d been taught wasn’t actually true. In this class, I learned that evolutionary theory was not baseless and unfounded. Mountains of data from every scientific field out there supported it. The people that had told me scientists made it up and had no evidence were wrong. If they were wrong about that, what if they were wrong about everything else? I knew then that the answer to that question was that they were indeed wrong about everything else. It just took me a few years to come to terms with what I’d already figured out.
But, when I did come to terms with it, I did not experience the terrifying, isolating experience I’d imagined. It was actually quite wonderful and liberating. I felt more at peace than I ever had. I’ve grown so much as a person from that point. I’m still just as passionate as I ever was, but now I know what to be passionate about.
Sometimes, I feel bitter about the years spent pursuing something that is not true. But, when I consider that so few people that have sincerely lived the fundie life ever come out of it, I realize my good fortune. There is much I feel thankful for. I don’t even want to imagine what I’d be doing right now if I was still a fundie, and I’m grateful that I have finally found my way.
Yet, I feel so much frustration as I try to share with my fundie friends a different way of approaching the world because of their strong resistance to even the consideration of another viewpoint. I often deal with my emotions by writing. Thus, this blog serves as my means of dealing with the extreme frustration I often feel living as an ex-fundie.