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Paradigm Lost

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About this blog

My experience growing up in the fundie/Reformed/Calvinist community. 

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The Sin of Christmas

I remember being about two years old (I have a long memory) and watching my dad plug in Christmas lights. That was probably the last year our family celebrated Christmas.  Both my parents grew up celebrating holidays like most of middle-class America, but as they began their slide into fundie-dom they started reading tracts and booklets about the evils of holidays. They believed that Christmas, Easter, and Halloween were evil throwbacks to paganism that had been perpetuated by the Catholics (who, of course, weren't "real Christians"). I'm linking here to something similar to the many booklets we had around the house: http://blowthetrumpet.org/AChristmasDefenseHowGodsPeopleJustifySin.htm This refusal to celebrate holidays set my family apart, even from the fundamentalist Christians we associated with, and definitely caused a lot of confusion when people casually asked us kids what we were doing for Christmas, and we told them we didn't "do Christmas." We got asked a lot if we were Jehovah's Witnesses, since that's who usually comes to mind as not celebrating holidays. Sometimes people asked if my parents were Christian, because the idea of a Christian not celebrating Christmas was so astonishing.  Birthdays were only grudgingly allowed: we normally had just a family gathering, similar to the Maxwells' descriptions of their birthday celebration. It was often pointed out that the only birthdays mentioned in the Bible were the birthdays of evil men (Pharaoh and Herod). Also it was seen as being likely to draw to much attention to one person and make them self-centered.  This story has a bit of a happy ending, at least for me. After I left home, I embraced holidays with a vengeance. Christmas was amazing, my children got Easter baskets from my in-laws, Halloween was a pure delight of dressing my kids and taking them trick-or-treating. Now that I've left Christianity, I still look forward to the holidays. Christmas/Yule/Winter Solstice--whatever it's called, it's a time of joy and giving and yummy food. Halloween--it's a joy to watch my children enjoy what I didn't, with no fear of "Satan" to hinder their steps. The cycle of the seasons is cause for celebration, even if "Easter" isn't really a thing for me. And I want my children to feel special on their birthdays: to know that they're important and valued. This rejection of holidays stemmed from anti-Catholic and anti-Pagan attitudes. It was promoted as being "God's way," but all the tracts reviled Catholics and Pagans, making it obvious that the real problem was with other people's belief systems. Of course, we were the ones with the "right" understanding of the Bible. As with everything else.  Nowadays, my parents still don't celebrate religious holidays, except for having or attending a Thanksgiving meal (apparently there's some justification in the Bible for "a day of thanks," don't ask me). They are free to do whatever they want on the holidays; meanwhile, at my house, there will likely be a delicious dinner cooking and a living room full of loved ones. 

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Close Your Eyes and Think of Jesus

This blog post may be a little more vague than my others, as I'm not sure exactly how much detail I want to get into regarding my personal experience of sexuality as I grew up fundie Calvinist. But I do think it's an important subject, and I've seen so many questions on FJ about different fundies and how they understand and experience sex. I can't speak to each family, of course, but I'm reasonably certain that my upbringing was not far from the fundie norm. So to start: sex education. We didn't have any. Or, more accurately, when I was 11 years old I was given a pamphlet called Almost 12 by Kenneth Taylor, which is still available on Amazon. It had very minimal information, and my mother glued black construction paper over the two-page illustration that, I assume, was of naked people. I had no discussion of the book with my parents: I think my mother asked if I had any questions, and I said no. Of course I said no; I was mortified.  So I had some idea that "sex" involved putting a penis inside a vagina (no idea of any actual mechanics, positions, etc.). Also "petting" and kissing before marriage was bad and wrong, and that courtship was the God-approved way to find a marriage partner. I read so many books on courtship, although I blessedly escaped Josh Harris' semenal work (yes, I made a pun, sue me). Josh Harris was actually a second wave for us; my younger siblings read his book, I think. I remember some of the books I read: Jeff McLean: His Courtship (Castleberry), Dear Princess (Landis), and some crap by Doug Wilson.  The church I grew up in had no position on courtship or dating. Premarital sex was taboo, of course. The pastor and his wife taught abstinence courses in the local schools, so they were pretty adamant about waiting until marriage. It was my parents who pushed the idea that daughters should submit to their fathers in everything, including choice of marriage partner. They had a lot of books on Dominionism and Reconstructionism, which are so anti-women's rights it's not even funny. I devoured those books; I'm not sure what that says about my self-esteem at the time.  When I started getting periods, I told my mother that I was bleeding. I knew what it was, but I was embarrassed to tell her. She said "Oh, you must be getting your..." and trailed off, and my idea that menstruation was embarrassing was reinforced. I knew where the pads were: we didn't use tampons as that might break your hymen, which was your proof of virginity.  Some of my younger sisters ended up coming to me for their periods/problems with their periods, and I helped them as best I could. I studied enough science to have a pretty good idea about what was going on during a woman's cycle during my teen years. I still had no real understanding of sex. My doctor suggested putting me on birth control for my irregular, painful periods, and I wouldn't take birth control because it "could cause abortions." (I knew I couldn't get pregnant without having sex, but I still saw BC as evil).  From a very young age, I had realized that rubbing myself in certain areas felt good, and I did that for years. I had a sense that it was not an approved activity, so I did it privately, with feelings of guilt that I did not understand. I did not know there was a word for it, or that it was a sexual activity, or what an orgasm was when I first had one. But when I was 16 I came across the word "masturbation" and looked it up secretly in the dictionary. I was horrified to find that I had been engaging in a sexual activity outside of marriage. I wasn't sure that I could be considered a virgin anymore, and I was afraid that no good Christian man would want me after what I had done. I went cold turkey off the masturbation for years, riddled with secret shame.  Even after I started becoming less fundie, it took years for me to let go of the sex guilt that I had grown up with. Now I embrace my sexuality. I've gone from thinking "penis" is a bad word to writing erotic stories and selling them online, and I definitely know how the Legos fit together, haha. And I'm happy to say that my siblings, for the most part, also refused to stay repressed.  If there's a moral to this story, it's probably that if you have kids, you need to help them understand sex and sexuality. Make sure they know about consent, protection, STDs, pregnancy, anatomy, periods, masturbation, nocturnal emissions, same-sex attraction, bisexuality, asexuality, porn, and whatever else they might need to know to be safe, sane, consenting, kind, knowledgeable people in their sex lives. I look back at my lack of education and the sexual taboos I grew up with, and wonder how I got out of it without even more significant damage. (I do have some issues that I'm not comfortable sharing on a public forum, but I've read things about other people's difficulties that are much worse).  I know that sexual repression can occur without fundamentalist Christian beliefs. I think my family would have been secretive and embarrassed about these subjects even without the fundamentalism. But the fundamentalism added a huge dose of guilt and shame to everything, along with homophobic religious beliefs and forbidding any sexual outlet outside of marriage. It's more difficult to let go of certain teachings when you're afraid of God and Hell.  I hope this was helpful, or informative, or mildly interesting. Fundamentalist Christianity can go fuck itself.     

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Calvinism as I Knew It

Calvinism for my family wasn’t just an abstract theological concept. It informed every aspect of our lives, painfully so. The RPCNA, which I grew up in, is definitely Calvinist in their beliefs. They hold the Westminster Confession of Faith as subordinate only to the Bible in terms of doctrine. And the WCF is strictly Calvinist in doctrine. The TULIP acronym is a useful aid to what we believed and what our church believed: ·         Total Depravity: the doctrine that humans are completely unable to do anything good whatsoever. As in, even your thoughts are evil. I could go on forever about this; the belief was that the unsaved were incapable of doing any true good in the sight of God. Example: an unsaved man risks his life to save a child from drowning. Good, right? According to this belief, no, only “less evil” than letting the child drown, because the unsaved man was not performing this act “to the glory of God.” He was performing it for less pure motives than God’s glory, and therefore he was sinning. Saved people were only capable of true good insofar as the Holy Spirit inside of them was motivating them and purifying their sinful actions. ·         Unconditional Election: the doctrine that God has chosen, from eternity, those people that he will save; and that he has chosen them not for anything that they have done, but just because he can. (Sort of like Thanos randomly decimating half the universe’s population). ·         Limited Atonement: the doctrine that Christ died ONLY for the elect (the ones that God had already chosen to save). John Doe is not elect; therefore, Christ did not die for John Doe’s sins. This doctrine is kind of disgusting and pisses me off. Christ, the figurehead for love, salvation, and forgiveness in the Christian religion, LIMITED his salvation to the elect. Ugh. Gross. You might as well praise Thanos for leaving half the universe alive. He was so merciful! ·         Irresistible Grace: the doctrine that God’s decision to make you elect cannot be changed or resisted. Free will is not a thing for Calvinists. You don’t have free will. If God wants to save you, wants to make you believe in Christ for salvation, you will not be able to resist it. On the other hand, if God hasn’t chosen you, you will never be able to have saving faith in Christ. ·         Perseverance of the Saints: the doctrine of  “once saved, always saved” except for Calvinists. Since they were chosen from eternity, it’s more like “always saved.” Since God is all-powerful, never changes, and has chosen you, you’re either elect or not. There is no crossover. This leads directly into the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, as people do leave the faith. They are seen as having never been true Christians in the first place. (There are differences of opinion on “the unpardonable sin” mentioned in Mark 3: 28-29, and other passages. Some Calvinists would say that I have committed the unpardonable sin by leaving Christianity and following another path. But those Calvinists would consider me to have never been regenerate to start with.)   This is Calvinism as it was taught to me and as I understood it. There are shades of Calvinism, of course, just as there are shades of all religions. The effects of this doctrine were, to start with, guilt. Everything I did and thought, every breath in a literal sense, was either evil or highly suspect of being evil. Coupled with my OCD, this led to years of muttering under my breath “oh-God-please-forgive-me” for the littlest action that might have been sinful. I dragged my guilt with me everywhere I went, crippled by the sense of sin. I didn’t understand people who talked about the burden of sin being lifted. Sure, I could hope that I was one of the elect and would escape hell; but that was about it. I was simultaneously told to avoid sin, and that sin could not be avoided. It was painful, painful beyond belief. Coupled with mental illness, it was nearly unbearable. Another effect was prejudice against others. Our doctrine was special: the only true doctrine. People who were not Christians were evil, incapable of doing good. My motives were suspect: theirs were undoubtedly sin. People who were not Calvinists, even though they were Christian, were seen as “less than,” not having the whole truth. I learned to doubt the salvation of people who believed in free will (Arminianism). The prejudice and doubting may not have been an intended effect, but I have never known a Calvinist congregation that did not have an extra helping of arrogance. An arrogance that corrupted my mind and poisoned me against others. I think that Calvinists often see themselves as “special,” and “intellectual,” because their doctrines are convoluted and require a lot of study and understanding to grasp. The idea that “Jesus died for my sins,” and a simple faith in that idea, is seen as being a “baby Christian.” Calvinists pride themselves on being more advanced. They like discussions on the “act” of justification vs. the “work” of sanctification. They like infighting over the nuances of the Westminster Confession. They like debating the positions of tiny splinter denominations. (I knew of a Calvinist preacher who refused to enter an alliance with another tiny Calvinist church because the second church refused to force the women to wear headcoverings. They were aligned on salvation doctrines and worship practices.) Yet another effect was fear. Paralyzing fear. If I was elect, everything would be ok in the end. I would go off to Heaven, which sounded horribly boring, but at least it was devoid of flames. But if I wasn’t elect? Nothing could save me from Hell. And there was no way to be 100% sure that I was elect. No literal book with my name written in it. To counteract this, the church talked about “assurance,” which was supposedly the Holy Spirit comforting our souls with trust in God. It wasn’t very comforting, as Satan was also waiting, ready to trick us into false assurance. Determining which voice was speaking to our hearts was difficult. I had no “assurance” until I was about 18 or 19, at which point I formally joined the church I’d been attending since I was 6 or 7. It was an intense, traumatic time for me, knowing that refusing to join could be a sign that I wasn’t elect, but that being admitted to Communion and taking it “unworthily” would bring down unpleasant heavenly consequences. (I took the membership vows very seriously, but I now consider myself to have been coerced. I was brought up to believe that Hell awaited people who refused to join the visible church—because refusing membership was most likely a sign that you were not elect. And Hell as a literal eternal fiery pit is a pretty powerful motivator.) Good works, to the Calvinist, are seen as a sign of being elect. Oddly enough, they become massively important for that reason, because they serve as the only outer barometer of being elect. If you claim Christianity and run a charity, take care of your kids, go to church, and dress modestly, you’re probably elect. If you claim Christianity but have an addiction, don’t go to church, or have sex outside of marriage, you might be unregenerate (in certain people’s eyes). Instead of seeing hurting people as brothers and sisters, this kind of Calvinist sees them as either unregenerate or as sinners not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. As I said before, this is how Calvinism was for me, and my birth family, and my church. It was an ugly, ugly system full of arrogance and othering and guilt and doubt and fear. If you have questions, feel free to ask. I realize I’ve written a novel here, and it still doesn’t cover more than the surface of this issue!

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks

H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks (A comical reference to the hot place, based on the shape of the last two letters)     The Christians I grew up around took Hell pretty darn seriously. They didn’t believe in expiation of sins after death: once you’re dead, you’ve lost your chance, buddy. If you weren’t saved by Jesus before you died, off you go in a handbasket to the hot place. For Reformed Presbyterians, this is compounded by the Calvinist belief that God has already determined who’s headed to the flames, but has not chosen to share this information with humankind. Of course the above paragraph is a simplified explanation, but sometimes it helps to strip away all the fancy theological terms and state things baldly. I was taught that if you died without believing in Jesus as Savior, you would instantly go to a place of never-ending torment and darkness, and at the Resurrection your body would be consigned to the flames to burn forever without any chance of escape. This shit fucked with my head pretty badly growing up. I remember sheer sweating terror one night where I had convinced myself I was going to Hell. I still remember how afraid I was as I faced an eternity of screaming agony, sure that I couldn’t do anything about it. After all, if God had predestined me to the flames, there was no way around it—no propitiation, no sacrifice, no acceptance, no forgiveness. I relaxed a little bit about Hell after that; I think I numbed myself to the possibility of ending up there and tried not to think about it. But I still believed in eternal torment, and I still believed that the unsaved were headed there by the thousands every day. This led to a lot of guilt about not witnessing to the unsaved. Now I know this doesn’t really make sense, because if God had already chosen his people, it couldn’t be my fault if somebody went to Hell. At the time, though, it didn’t seem nearly so clear, and if anyone I knew died who wasn’t Christian, I was full of guilt because maybe I was the one who was supposed to evangelize them and save them from the flames. We were commanded to spread the Gospel, and I wasn’t doing it, or not doing it well enough. It made me really sad when my grandfather died an “unbeliever.” I couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea of him burning up forever. I just didn’t understand how people could be happy in Heaven when they knew their loved ones were shrieking in the fire. Apparently if you are one of the elect, when you go to Heaven you are purified and happy forever and just…don’t care about your friends and relations? Forget about them? Rejoice in their punishment, since they are sinners? Holy fuckballs! If that’s the way it works, I’m jumping in the handbasket with my loved ones and heading to the Pit, because Heaven sounds a lot more twisted. I would think for most Calvinists, predestination would take the edge off of personal guilt about evangelizing to the lost. But if you believe that everyone has an opportunity to be saved, like many modern Evangelicals, how do you not spend every waking moment trying to rescue people from the flames? Unrepentant humanity is throwing itself over a cliff of destruction! You should be waving signs, screeching warnings, blocking their path…oh, wait, there’s a bunch of Christians doing exactly that, and it’s obnoxious. Theologically consistent, but obnoxious. But understanding how some Christians view Hell as a place of eternal, no-escape torment does shine a light on their behavior. If somebody thought you were about to jump off a ten-story building, you’d expect them to try to stop you. That’s what a decent person would do. Unfortunately, there are a lot of well-meaning Christians out there trying to “save” people from the Christian Hell. Their intentions are good, but I’ve always heard that the road to hell was paved with good intentions... Like a lot of my early beliefs, my belief in Hell slipped away gradually. I had to go from strict Calvinism (God only saves the elect, all others go to Hell) to a belief in free will (you can decide to accept God, and then you will go to Heaven) to the belief that the Divine love is open to everybody, and that the only hell is one you create for yourself. And if you’ve created it for yourself, you’re free to leave it behind. But what about mass murderers? What about Hitler? A lot of people consign the unrepentant to eternal flames with smug satisfaction. A lot of people do that, some without even really thinking about it. “He got what was coming to him.” “He can rot in hell.” That’s our desire for justice talking. If we lost our sense of justice, we’d lose a huge part of our humanity. Pain and suffering follows evildoers. Karma is a bitch, and we bless her for her bitchiness. But what if even the most evil are not unreachable by love? Maybe, even when we are full of justified anger and hate against the worst of humankind, maybe Divine love doesn’t give up trying to bring them back to goodness, even after death. That’s why I can’t say that I hope anybody rots in hell, because one: I don’t believe in it, and two: I hope that everybody finds some kind of redemption, be it through reincarnations or purgatory or something else. At least that’s how I think of it. I don’t fear Hell anymore, and that’s a relief. I don’t want my children to grow up in fear, sickened by the thought of eternal flames. I asked my son once if he knew what “hell” was—he said he knew “hail” fell from the sky, and I laughed because he didn’t know, and he wasn’t afraid, and that’s the way a child should be.  

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Homeschooling

I thought I'd write a blog post about homeschooling, one of the parts of my upbringing of which I have both good and bad memories. To be frank, I'm actually currently homeschooling my own older child (the other is too young yet). I think a lot of the difference between me and my parents lies in why, not as much in how. I'm not doing it to keep my children from the world. I'm not Christian myself, but probably 90% of the public school teachers in this area are. I'm homeschooling because I enjoy providing my children with an educational experience that I can tailor to their learning styles. If it stops working for us, we'll re-evaluate putting them in school.  My parents homeschooled their kids because they firmly believed that public schools were instruments of Satan (although they might not have used that specific term). They thought that the government used schools as indoctrination camps to make children into atheists and evolutionists. They had both been educated in public schools, so I guess the atheist indoctrination didn't take. They both held professional licensures as well in a medical field (not being specific for privacy). Needless to say, our education was heavily Christian-based. We used Rod and Staff, Abeka, Apologia, Sonlight, etc. in our curriculum, and participated in a homeschool reading program in the summer and homeschool spelling bees as well. My mother focused heavily on seat work and completing workbooks. Every morning she'd have a list of the tasks to be completed written out on a whiteboard. We were allowed to take the different tasks in any order, as long as they got done. We weren't allowed free play time until after the schoolwork was completed, usually by 1 or 2 in the afternoon at the latest in the older grades (we'd get up, have our private Bible time, breakfast, and start school by about 7:30). We had family Bible time in the morning and evening, and my mother would read fiction aloud to us before bed.  The cons: massive focus on fundamentalist Christianity, extremely whitewashed American history (MLK was scorned as a lying communist--??? still haven't figured that one out), young-earth creationism, lack of education about other religions. The pros: my mother enjoyed teaching, and I enjoyed learning. We had access to a lot of books, fiction and non-fiction. Except for the gaps noted above, I got a pretty solid educationin English, math, literature, music, and art and had no trouble moving into college classes when I was about 18. Homeschooling was one of the few things I remember fondly about a childhood I describe as "kinda sucky." I learned to cook and sew pretty well, skills that have come in handy for me, and in spite of the no-evolution bias, I was damn good at college anatomy and physiology classes because I'd learned a lot of it already from Apologia curriculum.  It was hard to fill in the gaps, though. I'm still catching up on movies that most people my age saw years ago! And I thought I had a lot of history knowledge, but what I had were dates and fact snippets, not understanding, because I was taught a biased view of history that showed white Christians as the saviors of the world. Ugh. And studying the Bible as if it was all completely factual didn't do me any favors, either. All in all, I'm not sorry that I was homeschooled, and I know my parents were trying to do what they thought was the right thing in educating us at home. What makes me angry is that my parents both went to college, and then tried to deny me the same choice because I was a girl and I was "supposed" to focus on homemaking, marriage, and babies. I started community college under a cloud of disapproval, but my mom had encouraged the love of learning, and I wasn't about to stop just because I'd finished high school. I had a lot of mental conflict because of not "honoring" my parents, but the urge to do something with my life overpowered the doubts that stemmed from my upbringing. I couldn't imagine just sitting at home waiting for a man. And I didn't want a bunch of kids. My older child is doing great with homeschooling so far. But I have no fear that Satan is lurking in the halls at the local public school. If anything, I'd be worried about too much Christianity there! I know some people had utterly horrible experiences with homeschooling, and wouldn't dream of doing it with their kids. I feel that I can give my kids some opportunities with homeschooling that might not be available in our local public schools. As I said before, it comes down to WHY people choose to educate in that manner. Parental involvement is key. And as screwed up as my mom's beliefs were, she was involved and genuinely making an effort to educate us.

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Fig Leaves

When I talk about modesty and how I had to dress in my childhood, I am talking about my experience only. Although the church I grew up in promoted modesty as an ideal, they did not demand a certain dress code or style of clothing. What I grew up with stemmed from the far stricter beliefs of my mother, enhanced by various books and tracts on the subject. My mother did not grow up fundie. I was probably about three or four when she decided that shorts were inappropriate attire—and she took my shorts away. I remember being upset about it: a feeling that would return many times over the years. Women with short hair were considered to be sinning against God, based on 1 Corinthians 11:14-15. My hair grew to just past my rear end, and I was hella proud of it, even though I had crazy split ends. I could braid that hair, pin it up, make two buns like Leia (not that I really knew who Leia was). Turns out I actually look a lot better with short, styled, colored hair, now that I’m a practicing witch and can wear my hair however I want. But at the time, my long hair gave a little boost to my self-confidence, because it was a symbol of “godliness.” In my pre-teen and early teen years, I definitely wore frumpers. My mom and sisters did too. We made a lot of our own frumperlicious clothing, and I am grateful to my mom for teaching me how to sew, even if I wouldn’t be caught dead in a frumper again. Because skirts and dresses tend to fly up when playing, my mother made us “bloomers” to wear underneath. These instruments of Satan were white cotton knee-length drawers, elasticized at the waist and around the legs so they would stay in place. They weren’t visible under our long dresses. We wore regular underwear under the bloomers. Y’all, this getup was So. Fucking. Hot. in the summer. I distinctly remember trying to peel the sweat-soaked cotton down my legs so I could use the bathroom. I eventually quit wearing bloomers, I think around 12 or so when I was expected to act more like a lady and stop roughhousing quite as much. I remember being very upset when my mother told me I needed to be more careful about what I was wearing because I was starting to “develop.” I had breast buds, and instead of a bra I was given a camisole. Camisoles do nothing to conceal nipples, they just make you even warmer in hot weather. (If it sounds like I was overheated a lot of the time, I was. We didn’t live in a house with central A/C until I was about sixteen, and I grew up in the Midwest. Even if we had A/C, we couldn’t have afforded to keep it at a comfortable temperature). To this day I struggle with feeling exposed if there is any nipple pokage through my shirt. And, pardon the TMI, some people have nipples that are not easy to cover! But I had no idea how to choose a decent bra. I think I was 21 before I got measured at Victoria’s Secret. I almost forgot about swimwear! We wore modest swimwear from a pattern by Lilies of the Field, who still sell the same type of swimsuit that we had back in the day, if you want to look it up. Every summer we’d pick out a new swim fabric from the store and make a suit. Two pieces: biker shorts to the knee, and a bodice with skirt over that. I think bodice is the right word, but it sounds far sexier than the reality. When I was younger, the bodice was a tank-top style; when I got older, cap sleeves were added, plus a “bib” of the same fabric in the front to cover the breasts. There was absolutely no fucking support under there for the boobies, though. It was all about covering, not supporting. I didn’t really like being “feminine” as it was defined by the standards of my fundie religion. I still, even though I occasionally dress up and look pretty, prefer a very loose, casual, comfortable style of clothing. Androgynous looks delight me as well. I appreciate what might be considered my more masculine traits: deep voice, angular body, small boobs, muscular shoulders. I don’t wear makeup. When I was pregnant, I was very uncomfortable with my suddenly curvalicious body. It didn’t match my ideal of myself. What I’m trying to say is that I was not a good person to try to put into a model of femininity based on 1950s stereotypes. I followed the rules for a long time, but eventually I snapped. I decided to wear pants. I could not find any real, genuine, Biblical reason not to do so, and I wanted very much to look like a regular person and not be questioned about my odd clothing. Once I made that decision, I refused to turn back. I was undeterred by threats of hellfire and by the screaming matches that ensued on my actions. This is why I think the Duggar girls may have actually taken a big step by wearing pants. Because, at least in my family, it was a big step. My mother, bless her heart, was horrified. I had finally shattered my “good girl” image, and all the steps I had taken towards freedom before that were as nothing compared to the day that I put on “that which pertaineth unto a man.”  We compromised somewhat, after a while; I wore skirts in the house. I changed more times than I remember at work, at community college, in the car. My sisters, as they grew up, did the same. All this talk of modesty, but we couldn’t change clothes in the privacy of our home. We were changing clothes in bathroom stalls. This modesty stuff is bullshit. It’s not about protecting women: it’s about having the final fucking word. I’m suddenly so angry I can’t see straight. There were other things to be aware of if I wanted to be dressed modestly. No tank tops, because men might be turned on by the area below your arms. No low necks, defined as being able to see into your shirt if you bent over. No short skirts (above the knee was short). No strapless, naturally. No backless, or low in the back. Nothing thin enough that it might show the outline of your body if you stood against the light. No bra straps showing at the edges of your neck opening. Nothing tight enough to reveal that you had a figure of any kind. Red clothing was frowned upon as being a harlot’s color. I think contrasting buttons were okay though. Suck on that, Steve Maxwell! But pretty much, I grew up looking like I was wearing flour sacks. I got tired of people asking if I was Amish or Pentecostal. When I said I was Reformed Presbyterian they just looked puzzled. It was impossible to explain the convoluted rules in my family. I was the first girl in my family to break the modesty rules. By the time my youngest sister left home, the rules had been relaxed to the point that even my mother was wearing pants fairly often. She says she was legalistic about dresses.    I hope sometime to be able to visit a nudist colony. I want to see what it’s like to lay aside clothing entirely as something unnecessary. Since that would be frowned upon in my current city, I wear what I feel like wearing. Tank tops in summer because I get frickin’ hot. Yes, you can see the tops of my boobs when I bend over, and I don’t give a shit. I almost never wear a long skirt; it brings up bad memories. I wear jeans that actually fit me instead of frumpers two sizes too big. I’m afraid that my still-smoldering anger at my mother is seeping through in this post. She would be most upset if she knew that I’m talking about these issues with strangers on the internet, but this is my story. This is what happened to me. I was hurt by fundamentalism, and I want to talk about it. My parents are still absolutely fundamentalist Christians, and because of that they can only acknowledge my hurt in a very limited way. I’m not writing this as revenge—I don’t expect them to read this, and I’ve kept their names private—but as my way of grappling with the lifestyle and beliefs that formed me. Apologies for the length of this post. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the modesty mindset!

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Adam and His Pet Dinosaurs

I was raised to believe without question that every word of the Bible was true, breathed from the lips of God and miraculously preserved over thousands of years.  And not just any Bible: the King James Version (Authorized Version) is the preferred, almost idolatrously revered version for a lot of Reformed Presbyterians and other Christian sects. Don’t try to convince a KJV-only believer that there’s anything better than their 17th-century translation! If you can’t understand the antique English phrasing, that’s your problem. You are obviously a lazy modern Evangelical, and not a true yoke-fellow. You should get comfortable with “thees,” “thous,” and the horrible “dung” of 400-year-old patriarchal bias, or you may be smitten with emerods. (I just had to look up what the heck an emerod is, and I was raised on the KJV!) However, this article isn’t about versions of the Scripture, although I find it hilarious that the King James, of all the versions of the Bible in existence, is so adored by anti-gay fundamentalists. It was commissioned by King James I, who most likely had several male lovers in his lifetime. Not to mention that it was commissioned for the “apostate” and “Papist” Church of England. But that’s a story in itself. You can still be a Biblical literalist even if you use a different version. Literalism is a way of interpreting the Bible that holds that every word is inspired by God and therefore infallible. According to this view, there are no mistakes in the original works as they came from the pens of various writers. Any errors or contradictions are either tortured into harmony or explained as an error of transcription from the originals. Even with literalism, though, there are different shades of interpretation. I wasn’t raised to believe that the Earth was flat and that the Sun revolved around it, as described by the ancients. I was, however, taught that the creation story in the book of Genesis was absolutely true in a literal sense. My siblings and I memorized a song about the days of creation, naming the various things created on each day and culminating in the seventh day of rest. We made little booklets and drawings of the events during science unit studies. Adam was real, Eve was real, the serpent in the garden was real, and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was as real as the apples on the kitchen counter. The Earth, we were told, was approximately 6,000 years old, based on Ussher’s chronology. Any ideas to the contrary were suppressed. We didn’t have many books on dinosaurs, because such books were full of references to “epochs” and “millions of years.” We were taught that humans co-existed with the dinosaurs, and that the dinosaurs probably died out after the Great Flood of Genesis, which actually covered the whole earth with water and drowned everybody except Noah, Mrs. Noah, and the kids. (Side note: it is such a relief to me that I no longer have to believe in the Great Flood. It just doesn’t make sense, and I think it bothered me subconsciously for a long time). When I got into my teen years, I had access to “science” books “debunking” evolution. Darwin was practically the Antichrist, and Ken Ham was a true prophet of the Lord. I feel a little sad looking back, because not accepting evolution as a legitimate explanation for the world as we know it cut off so many avenues of study and interest. Anthropology, astronomy, zoology—you’re most likely not going to get very far when you hold a viewpoint contradicted by the evidence. At best, you’re going to waste a lot of time inventing workarounds for the contradictions. I remember being probably 9 or 10 years old and attending a “Creation Seminar” put on by the Institute for Creation Research, or ICR. The seminar consisted of the usual explanations and defenses of Young-Earth Creationism, but what I remember most (besides being thrilled by apocryphal tales of dinosaurs still living in remote rainforests) was talking to my parents about how I’d heard of a view called “Old-Earth Creationism,” which accepts the evolutionary process and doesn’t interpret the days of Genesis as literal 24-hour days. I was pleased by this idea. It made sense to me. But when I mentioned the theory, it was shot down immediately. I was disappointed—I still remember that disappointment—and I retreated back into the hard-core fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis. I want to stop and make a point here. Young-Earth Creationists are not necessarily stupid. They really aren’t. My parents are highly intelligent people who excelled in college before they “went fundie.” I’ve known lawyers, teachers, accountants, business professionals, and other highly-skilled, highly-educated people who held to a literal interpretation of Genesis and the rest of the Bible. I was well out of college with a 4.0 GPA before I began to question the Genesis account. It’s not stupidity; it’s a huge blind spot. I know some people assume that creationists are stupid, but it’s like assuming that people in cults are stupid, when psychology assures us that we are all vulnerable to the cult mindset. In fundie circles, there’s a lot of pressure to believe a certain way. But why is Creationism such a big deal? Why can’t fundamentalist Christians just accept the evidence of how the world came to be? Evolution does not preclude God. You can believe in the divine and in the process of evolution simultaneously. The reason that Creationism is such a big deal is that once you begin to question the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, you might begin to question everything. If you believe that the entire Bible is literally true, contains all the answers, and has no mistakes, you can live your life in a closed system of belief. But when doubt creeps in and evolution starts making sense, you’re on a path that leads beyond the walls. When you realize that the creation story is a metaphor, an ancient praise of the divine essence lacking in scientific validity, it opens up a whole new can of amoebas. What else might be interpreted metaphorically? The story of Abraham and Isaac? The story of Jonah? (Yes, for over twenty years I firmly believed that Jonah really was swallowed by a giant fish and lived in its belly for three days until being vomited out.) The Virgin Birth? Should it be taken literally? Oh, heresy, heresy! For me, the shattering of my belief in Biblical literalism took many years to happen. A crack here, a chip in the plaster there, until the walls crumbled around me. Questions about the validity of the Bible weren’t really encouraged—everything was biased in one direction. If someone were to ask the deep questions, like: “Is there a God?” they’d be promptly answered by “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” (Psalms 14:1). The serpent in Genesis (yeah, the one that literally spoke) was a questioner, asking if God had really said not to eat the fruit of Knowledge. So if you questioned the Bible, you were on a par with the serpent.  No longer believing in an infallible Divine book has left me with a lot of uncertainties and mystery, but I find myself delighted at the freedom to question. I also feel relief from the burden of disliking God. A God who suggests killing little babies by smashing their heads on rocks and ripping up pregnant women with swords (Psalms 137:9) is really hard to love. I was so tired of the trite explanations for how we should love a God like that. Fuck, I didn’t want to love a God like that, but we were supposed to. So I tried, I tried, I really, really tried. Cognitive dissonance is forcing your conscious mind to believe that you love the fundie-Christian God while deep, deep down inside you…you know he’s an asshole. It’s such a relief not to have to believe in a divine asshole. I believe in the Divine, but not in God the genocidal maniac who created people and then drowned them in a fit of rage. It gives me joy not to believe in that. And I have the freedom now to ask questions, and the freedom to look for answers.    

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Why I'm Not Pro-Life (Anymore)

I grew up absolutely entrenched in pro-life (or pro-birther) beliefs. I had no doubt whatsoever that abortion was murder. Women who had had abortions had sinned heinously, and abortion providers were basically demons in white coats. My family was pretty quiet about their pro-life stance, though. We were not found protesting clinics or participating in marches. My parents were not demonstrative people, and also not terribly interested in something like abortion that did not directly affect them. They were completely anti-hormonal birth control, of course, and I would say that their beliefs about fertility pretty much aligned with the Quiverfull movement. I remember once, in my teens, helping a local pro-life activist host a dinner for some nationally known protesters that had come to the city. I don’t remember their names, I just remember they were considered important and well-regarded. And I remember the very odd vibe I got from them when they came to the dinner. They seemed fanatical, focused on one thing only: “saving the unborn” or whatever they called it. They made me uncomfortable, a feeling I couldn’t reconcile with the belief that they were doing the Lord’s work. (So many times, growing up, my feelings did not align with my beliefs. I try harder now to pay attention to what my emotions are telling me). Still, even as I grew up and phased through flavors of Christianity, the pro-life beliefs remained with me. I took no hormonal birth control, fearing that some poor fertilized egg would perish in my womb if I did. Unlike my parents, though, I saw no problem using barrier methods to prevent pregnancies. No way was I going to pop out kid after kid, especially when it turned out that pregnancy was hell on me mentally and physically. As I became more of a feminist and less of a fundie, I struggled to understand the hate directed at pro-lifers. (Naturally, any hate we directed at “abortionists” was well-deserved). I didn’t get why pro-choice people were so angry. I wanted to be a feminist, but I still thought abortion should be illegal. I read an early version of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and a tiny crack showed in my thinking because the women who wrote the book were so obviously caring, respectful, and determined to make the world a better place. But they were still wrong about abortion. Weren’t they? But it was in the throes of hyperemesis, puking my guts out, unable to keep down even water, medicated to a state of semi-consciousness, that I heard about women who terminated wanted pregnancies because they couldn’t take another day of illness. And I understood how they felt. I was able to keep my baby. I survived. But for once, I had stood for a moment in someone else’s shoes, and the crack where understanding kept leaking into my brain got wider. I progressed slowly but steadily in my thinking, every rerun of my beliefs beginning to play a little differently. I stopped taking the Bible at face value; I stopped believing in Hell; I became a little less of a Christian and a little more of something else every day. I read conversations on Free Jinger and other websites. I read how pro-life people turned pro-choice. I tried so hard to understand. People were saying that beliefs that I had held were wrong. I wanted to see past the hate and anger (lots on both sides) and understand what I was missing. It was like a puzzle, and I couldn’t find the last piece. Finally, one day, everything came together. It clicked. What I was doing, as a pro-life supporter, was taking away bodily autonomy and personal choice. It wasn’t about the “human life” of the cells inside someone else’s body: it was about taking away somebody else’s freedom. I had valued my own freedom enough to defy my parents and my church so that I could live my own life. What was I doing taking away someone else’s freedom and choice? What right did I have to do that? I don’t think it was ever about the “baby.” The baby is the red herring, a distraction from what is really happening when protesters block an abortion clinic or harass an abortion provider. It’s about control, about making sure that other people follow what we have deemed “the rules.” What I began so slowly to understand was that it is not my right, or anybody else’s right, to demand that another human create, or grow, or terminate, or deliver a baby. That decision is not mine. I can’t speak for others, but for me the pro-life teachings outlasted my belief in Jesus and my belief in the Christian Heaven and Hell. I think that’s an indicator of how deeply it is ingrained for fundamentalists. I still struggle when I think about abortion; that dark feeling of horror still floats to the top. But if I had a friend that needed me, I would walk by her side to the abortion clinic or to the delivery room, whichever one she was going to. And now I respect abortion providers, because they face all kinds of obstacles as they try to help women. Women that have had to fight through crowds of screaming protesters for their chance at freedom and choice. I think my beliefs changed mostly because I was open to change, but if you want to help someone come out of the pro-life movement, I think respect really helps. When I read respectful articles about being pro-life, read stories about abortion providers, and well-reasoned thoughts on the internet, I could grasp the ideas without being bogged down in puzzled distress at name-calling and accusations of stupidity. I understand, though, that some people are venting justified rage about pro-life beliefs, and that’s okay too. But if your goal is to help pro-lifers understand why they’re wrong, then remember that these beliefs run almost as deep as believing that the Earth is round, and that it requires more than an explosive argument to win them over. It’s like the shifting of tectonic plates, that happens slowly but changes the face of the world. It’s a paradigm shift.          

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Sabbatarianism

Since today is Sunday, I thought I'd make my first real blog post about Sabbath observance in my family of origin. I wrote this a couple months ago, and was waiting for an opportunity to share it with others. Enjoy! Or be appalled...whichever.  In Christian circles, there’s a range of views on the Sabbath and how it is to be observed. Most Protestants agree that the Sabbath is on Sunday, based on the New Testament description of Jesus rising on the first day of the week and Acts 20, verse 7: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples were come together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.” (KJV of course!) To celebrate the Sabbath on any other day could be perceived as a denial of the Resurrection. Reformed Presbyterians, such as I was, proclaim their freedom from the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. They chow down on ham, bacon, and shellfish, wear mixed fibers, shave their beards, and shake hands with menstruating women. But somehow they think the commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” is still in force and now refers to keeping Sunday holy as a day of rest. There’s really only a very shaky basis for that in the New Testament books of the Bible. Sure, according to Acts, Paul preached on a Sunday, but there’s no indication that the Gentile believers felt bound by any legalities of the Jewish religion. None. But Reformed Presbyterians can be very…very…fond of rules and legalities. Really, it might be easier for them to follow all the laws of the Pentateuch, rather than trying to make distinctions. For most of evangelical Christendom, keeping the Sabbath holy would probably mean showing up for church on Sunday. No fuss, no muss, and out by noon to make it to Applebee’s. If you’re Reformed Presbyterian, though, attending church is only the first step into a legalistic quicksand. This is an area where it’s definitely hard to find any consistency of practice, even in the tiny denomination I grew up in. Some people are hardliners (even cooking meals the day before to avoid excessive work on the sabbath) some are middle ground (reading secular novels and watching Netflix is allowed) and some people are so lax that they even go out to eat at restaurants, committing the double sin of violating the sabbath and causing others to violate it as well (those poor cooks at Mickey D’s!). Working at a job is very much frowned upon unless it is perceived as necessary, like nursing, emergency services, etc. To a well-balanced person, this probably sounds like a lot of fuss over a trivial matter. But when you’re a Biblical literalist and come across Numbers 15:32-36, a horrifying story about a man being stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, you are bound to interpret Sabbath-breaking as a very serious matter. If God killed someone for picking up sticks, and God is still the same today, then the slightest infraction of the rules means that you are deserving of the same death. I cannot stress enough that I am not kidding here. Any thought, any action that violates the Sabbath is deserving of death by stoning. That is what I was taught, and that is what I believed. But the Reformed Presbyterians don’t want to end up on the news. They won't stone you literally, only figuratively. As long as you realize how worthy of death you are, and are seized with crippling anxiety as a result, they’ve done their job. So  how could I break the Sabbath? Let me count the ways, as a child of parents who took everything, including Sabbath-keeping, to painful extremes. Also as a child with untreated and undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. Sunday dawns, and I rise from bed. I do not perform my normal exercise routine: that, of course, would be sacrilegious. Going for a walk might be permitted later, as long as it’s kept to a gentle pace and a reverential attitude. Thank God for hot showers. At least in my family of origin, we were permitted to shower. Nobody wants a houseful of stinky people, not even Jesus. He was grateful for the prostitute that poured incense on him, wasn’t he? I’ve heard and read plenty of debates about the use of electricity on the Sabbath, because somebody is presumably working at the power plant. However, the general consensus is that electricity is necessary to the function of present-day society, so somebody has to work at the power plant. It most likely won’t be a Reformed Presbyterian, though. Breakfast is not fancy, maybe some scrambled eggs, to keep labor minimal. Big involved breakfasts are not for the Sabbath. From breakfast until time to leave for church is about two hours of trying desperately to keep my thoughts focused on what we called “Sunday things.” We weren’t supposed to even think about schoolwork, jobs, hobbies, or, basically, anything fun. God, sin, death, Bible, God, sin, death, Bible. God, sin, death, list of chores…wait, that’s a worldly thought-oh-God-forgive-me-for-that-in-Jesus’-name-amen. God, sin, death, Bible… As a family, we drove quite a ways to church on Sundays (only sinners and misguided people went to the regular local churches). The family van had to be gassed up on Saturday for the trip, because it would be a sin to fill the tank on Sunday morning. That would be unnecessary work, and also involve the sin of buying and selling on the Sabbath, which gets its own special mention in Sabbatarian hell. Many times, the drive to church included memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is second only to the Bible among Reformed Presbyterians. It's a screed more dry than sawdust, but at least the questions provided a distraction from trying to shut off all non-Sabbath-related thoughts. Yes, it was like trying not to think of a pink elephant! Church was the main event of the day, of course. I don’t need to get into the routines of that here: the music was the Psalms of David, there was no accompaniment and we sucked at singing; the prayers were long, the sermons Calvinistic to the core. There was no excitement or running up and down the aisles shouting “Hallelujah!” As they say, you know you’re a Presbyterian when the preacher says something you agree with and you smile as loudly as you can. We were the Frozen Chosen. After church came the potluck dinner: everyone brought food (prepared the day before, of course) and the congregants shared a meal. This was usually the best part of the day, because for some reason you were allowed to think about food. Not too much, or you’d make an idol of it (ha! like Pepsi!), but at least you were allowed to enjoy lasagna and jello cake. Cue the Bible verse about Jesus plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath, blah, blah…Of course there were quaverings of unease even about the meal. Were we putting too much work into setting up tables and preparing food? Were people spending too much time chatting about worldly things? Were the children playing tag outside instead of walking quietly? Once the meal was concluded and we went home, the rest of the day stretched out gray and bleak. Catechism questions, Bible reading, sermons on audiocassette, a small supper, Psalm-singing in the evening (since it wasn’t public worship, my mother played the piano for that, thank heaven). We had a collection of books determined to be worthy of Sunday reading, so we read those over and over. I kid you not, some of them were republished tracts from the 19th century. Small children were not allowed to play with toys, except for the Noah’s Ark with its little plastic animals. Sometimes I could sneak a nap in, always with guilt about how I was using the Lord’s Day for sleeping. And most of us went to bed as soon as possible so we could end the misery. I used to get horribly depressed on Saturdays, knowing that Sunday was coming. That one day felt as long as the rest of the week put together. My OCD made it worse. OCD by its nature focuses on a source of anxiety, and my Sabbath anxiety was fear of sinning by thinking about secular things. I spent a lot of Sabbaths mentally chanting prayers for forgiveness every few minutes. If this sounds miserable, believe me, it was. The restrictions on what could be done on the Sabbath would have been bad enough without the sheer torture of trying to control every single thought that crossed your mind. Instead of being a day of rest, it became the most labor-intensive, mind-fucked day of the week. And they told me that Heaven would be one long, everlasting Sabbath.      

Lisafer

Lisafer

 

Introduction

Hi everyone, and thanks so much for welcoming me into the Free Jinger community! I'm very excited to be here. Please pardon any glitches with my new blog, since I'm just learning. To introduce myself: I was born into a large family, and homeschooled all the way through high school. My parents were from fairly normal American middle-class backgrounds, not fundie at all, but over time they became absolutely entrenched in the Christian fundamentalist way of thinking. We attended church services at a Reformed Presbyterian church (RPCNA) for almost my entire childhood, after my parents left a more mainstream denomination. I'm going to use fake names in this blog, if I have to use names, as my siblings did not ask to be part of my story. I might change a few minor details as well, to keep certain people's privacy. Not that any of you would know us! We were very small fish in the pond, and my parents' attempts to indoctrinate us failed miserably for the most part. We are a family of stubborn, determined people, and by our late teens most of us were most determinedly going our own way.  But I think that all of us, in different ways, were hurt by the attitudes and doctrines of fundamentalism. I, personally, was extremely hurt. I have had multiple counselors to work through years of guilt and fear induced by black-and-white doctrines and controlling personalities. I have mental illness, which was exacerbated by my upbringing. And I want to write about what I went through. It helps me process, and maybe it will help somebody else too.   

Lisafer

Lisafer

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