Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beginning the Quest

 Last summer, I was walking through my favorite used bookstore and a book fell off a table onto my foot.  I picked up The 19th Wife, a fictionalized account of the history of polygamy in Mormonism and Mormon fundamentalism.  In horrified fascination, I googled for several days about these FLDS communities and the whole topic of religious fundamentalism.  I couldn't get these women's stories out of my head.  I realized that at some level, I was identifying with them—that their quest for spiritual communion with God would lead them to participate in these stifling, degrading, anti-gracious communities and then breaking free of the legalism.  The more I read about Christian fundamentalism, the more appalled I became.  The extreme practices these Christians have taken up seemed so absurd yet so oddly familiar.

Quiverfull, militant fecundity, Joel's Army, dominionism, Bill Gothard, Integrated Family Church, Patriarchy and complementarians, the purity movement, and the stories of women and children who have escaped from these families and churches. Essentially, in the words of one former quiverfull, IFC, extreme mother, “each family becomes it's own cult centered around the father and families of sheeple following Vision Forum and other quasi-educational, cultic, Christian homeschooling groups or churches”.

It grossed me out, actually, but after my initial revulsion, I realized that most of these ideas (women under authority of men before God, faith+works to prove salvation, head coverings, breaking the will of the child, rebuilding America on God's ideals, no interracial or same sex unions, and more) floated through most of the churches we attended and probably were much stronger an influence than I noticed as a child in the 1970s.  It is just that since my childhood in these churches, these ideas have become institutionalized and given names and have movements with followers.  I mean, there are hordes of families who believe that their children, in particular daughters, shouldn't attend Bob Jones University because of the liberal humanist ideas they will be exposed to.  REALLY? BJU is too LIBERAL for the True Christian?

But I digress... despite having left all organized religion well more than a decade ago and Evangelical Christianity even longer ago, I find that I still harbor those little voices in my heart of hearts.  The ones that say if I know a better way (to save money, to eat healthy, to teach kids) but don't do it, I'm unworthy.  That everyone else's needs not only come before mine but that I don't deserve to have my needs met (servant leadership, death to self, who can trust a heart that is desperately wicked), etc.  I've just picked a different subset of "rules" to be unable to live up to than the fundies.

I used to tell people that I grew up in a dysfunctional household but instead of alcohol, it was religion that my parents were addicted to.  I thought I had left all that behind after I quit church and turned my back on all that “women submit, raise perfect children, do everything exactly right or God will turn his back on you” stuff.  But apparently, I have just as much of the addiction gene as all my forebears.

So I'm still a recovering Christian?  I've now added to my googling the rebuilding one's self and spirit after spiritual abuse.  Not that what I experienced was even remotely extreme compared to the stories I've been reading but the underlying philosophies were the same.  And our family and churches fit all 7 of the checkpoints for spiritual abuse listed by Jeff VanVonderan of Intervention television fame (and apparently well regarded by several of the fundy survivors I've been reading).

I guess the point of this post is to declare publicly that I'm powerless over the effects left in me by my spiritual upbringing.  That I have not shown myself the grace and mercy that I believe is the soul of God.  And that I'm a little unclear about where to go from here. Having recognized the signs of religious abuse and more than a little gun-shy of religious communities, yet no longer satisfied with the mishmash of spiritual traditions I’ve collected since leaving Christianity, what is the next step in recovery? In finding a spiritual tradition in which I feel at home?

1 comment:

  1. Just found your post. Seeing that you wrote this 6 years ago, do you still feel the way you do about things? I can relate to that spiritual abuse thing. All 7 points. Not only in all the religion I was involved in but also in the household I was raised in. Emotional and mental abuse - all 7 points, but in a secular type setting. I relate to what you said about showing yourself grace and mercy. Seems like that could help with the pain of guilt, shame and feeling undeserving of anything good.