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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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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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