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Fundamentalism: who stays and who leaves?


silvia

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This is a question that has always fascinated me. Obviously children who are culturally indoctrinated from birth to hew to certain beliefs are more likely to hold those beliefs in later life than kids not raised in such an environment. Even with the subset of those raised within hothouse fundamentalist culture, though, there are differences. Razing Ruth and Susanna Keller chose to flee, for instance, while the Duggar, Botkin, and Bates girls, by all appearances, are more than happy to continue drinking the Kool-Aid. We also have the interesting black-sheep stories of evangelical heir apparent Franky Schaeffer (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-rel ... 9508/posts) and intelligent design guru Michael Behe's son (http://www.reddit.com/comments/dngag/ia ... troversial), who came out swinging on Reddit, deriding his dad's beliefs and approach to science.

So what determines who stays and who breaks away? I feel pretty sure that it's not raw intelligence alone--read Hanna Rosin's God's Harvard for descriptions of some extremely smart young people who are also extremely sold out to the fundamentalist cause. Neither is it environment alone: raised in the same setting of religious "child-training" and cement-heavy dogma, some will moderate their outlook and approach as adults, while others will go on to raise their own kids exactly the same way. Is it personality--a certain stubborn ability to withstand shunning and criticism? Life experiences that make mincemeat of once strongly-held convictions, as in the case of former YLCF contributor Natalie Nyquist? A bedrock kind of commitment to truth that trumps the social pressures that keep believers in the fold? An uncommon willingness to revise one's worldview in response to new information? I'm curious to hear people's thoughts and experiences.

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Guest Anonymous

I think this is a really interesting topic, silvia.

I don't claim any great level of intelligence, but some things about the fundie-medium way I was raised never clicked with me. The constant harping on the evils of gay people, for instance, even before I figured out that I wasn't straight. Also my home life was pretty awful and I knew I didn't want that for myself and definitely not for any children I might have. Many people within the church were close-minded and frankly, mean. There was very little that I saw that I cared to emulate within fundamentalism.

I don't think it can be intelligence alone, really, the more I think about it, because I know some very smart people (doctors, other professionals) who are wading in the kool-aid. For me I guess I never felt that I "fit" for lack of a better word - either with the people or the lifestyle. I always felt outside of the circle even before I began questioning more of the beliefs I was raised with.

The sexism of it was a problem for me before I knew what to call it as well. I felt that God loved me less because he made me a girl, and that bothered me a lot. Still does sometimes, to be honest. I'm definitely still trying to sort all of this out.

**ETA: More thoughts.

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*snip*

For me I guess I never felt that I "fit" for lack of a better word - either with the people or the lifestyle. I always felt outside of the circle even before I began questioning more of the beliefs I was raised with.

I think this may be key.

It may be that if someone finds they don't fit in, they feel a failure, etc in fundie-dome they seem to go to 1 of 2 extremes, either they say "I must not be trying hard enough" and throw themselves farther into it or they say "well, why is having the perfect headscarf important" (which leads to more questions)

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I don't think there's one specific cause. Each person is different and each person's experiences will be different.

I agree that intelligence alone can not get anyone to change their belief system. There needs to be wisdom, which I see as different from intelligence; an ability to take your acquisition of knowledge and apply it to life that may result in your worldview or values being changed. There are tons of highly intelligent fundie people out there who aren't very wise; or else they suppress their wisdom because if they don't it will show them things they don't want to believe.

So for some, it's humility; a willingness to rethink your values and admit you are wrong. This simple reason is why it's so hard for many to even consider leaving fundiness; they don't want to admit they were wrong.

With others, it's an inherent independent spirit that some are born with. I know a lady who grew up in a very conservative, legalistic christian church, and she told me since age 12 she knew she was "done" with the church. She's very independent-minded, and admits that that is why she wanted to leave. Reminds me of Carolyn Jessop, who said in her book that she always was independent; without that quality, I don't think she ever would have had the courage to escape the flds.

Also, it's getting out into the world and realizing it's bigger than your tiny fundie bubble. Fundie lifestyle is a bubble lifestyle because there's a lot of suspicion associated with the "outside world". If someone is able to get out into the outside world and discover it isn't all snarling dogs and rapists, they might start rethinking their ways.

For still others, it's a reactionary decision; a reaction to bad/hurtful experiences. I think a lot of parents choose to embrace the fundie lifestyle for their family as a reaction to bad experiences they had with the mainstream world. Their children may choose to embrace the mainstream world in reaction to bad experiences they had in fundieism. The cycle goes on.....

Just my observations.

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I was raised conservative (fundie-ish?) and also felt like I never quite got it. I never felt God, and no matter how hard I tried, I didn't enjoy Bible study. The only time I felt like I was doing things right was when I did a year-long seminar on Daniel/Revelation/End Times. But I kept up with it through college, when my Earth Science professor said, basically, "I know what the church teaches, but you can't ignore the evidence of the geologic column for evolution." Blew my mind totally. This was the last semester of my senior year. I was 21. It took me until I was 32, though, to really come to terms with unbelief, and to call myself an agnostic.

Honestly, it was a huge relief. I've always had a problem with the church's treatment of the gay community, and now I don't have to worry about what the Bible says. Being able to follow my own conscience and live my life the way I think is right is so liberating.

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Good thoughts, everyone.

Lissar, you mentioned that your home life was pretty awful and that that was one of the things that drove you away. I think the same could probably be said for people like Razing Ruth. On the flip side, could it be that people who are fairly happy and have most/all of their needs met within the fundamentalist sphere (the Duggar girls?) have little or no motivation to leave, despite the hatred, contradictions, and illogic that the worldview is based on? It's a scary thought, but important to consider, I think. I imagine this is the same reason some people remained loyal to fascism: their own personal needs and desires were being fulfilled within its parameters, so they really didn't pay much mind to people outside their sphere who were being hurt by the philosophy.

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I think the it doesn't fit works well. I had fundie relatives growing up who tried to pull all the children of their siblings into the fold. By the age of 8 or 9, I'd grown to hate it so much that I told my mother to please refuse all invitations for me to anything vaguely church related from those relatives. To this day I say I'm "allergic to being Baptist." At that age it couldn't have been a deep theological reason, but some of the things they did were off putting and bothered me but in a way I couldn't define. Maybe those are kids with a more sensitive BS meter?

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Good thoughts, everyone.

Lissar, you mentioned that your home life was pretty awful and that that was one of the things that drove you away. I think the same could probably be said for people like Razing Ruth. On the flip side, could it be that people who are fairly happy and have most/all of their needs met within the fundamentalist sphere (the Duggar girls?) have little or no motivation to leave, despite the hatred, contradictions, and illogic that the worldview is based on? It's a scary thought, but important to consider, I think. I imagine this is the same reason some people remained loyal to fascism: their own personal needs and desires were being fulfilled within its parameters, so they really didn't pay much mind to people outside their sphere who were being hurt by the philosophy.

I'm sure that's probably pretty accurate for some, although I'm sure there are exceptions. I was one who grew up in a severely dysfunctional/neglectful family and that made it easy for me to walk away.

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I'm not sure really what was the single determining factor. If there is just one, it might be the not fitting into the fundie culture one. I know lots of people who really look forward to going to church but I never, ever did and had a lot of guilt over that. Plus, as per my username, I love reading but I was so bored reading the Bible over and over, and you are supposed to love it and always get something new out of it. Being a straight girl and pretty traditional in my wants I did not really notice the sexism while I was in there, but now it is so easy to see.

The turning point for me was when I decided to no longer live my life based on fear. For someone who grew up constantly terrified of the End Times and other things, that was a huge step and everything since has been based off that. Sure, there are still legitimate things to be afraid of, but now I look them in the face before avoiding them.

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Also, it's getting out into the world and realizing it's bigger than your tiny fundie bubble. Fundie lifestyle is a bubble lifestyle because there's a lot of suspicion associated with the "outside world". If someone is able to get out into the outside world and discover it isn't all snarling dogs and rapists, they might start rethinking their ways.

I think this is one example of a general thing - somehow seeing a crack in the facade, or hypocrisy. Namely, finding out that something you've been told isn't true, and that leads (perhaps only in some people) to question the rest and it all falls down like a house of cards. There's an element of chance there, in coming across that crack.

One way would be to mix with the secular world and by chance end up receiving some help from a secular person or getting close enough to that secular person to find out that they're NOT actually [whatever stereotype] or fundamentally (heh) different from yourself, despite being told they are.

Merely mixing with the secular world isn't enough - if you've pregamed with enough Kool-Aid so that you're still seeing all of your interactions though Kool-Aid goggles, still able to mentally Other the people you're mixing with, it won't be enough. You need to mix, and find yourself, somehow, realizing that you're not actually all that different.

For some people, coming across factual knowledge is enough. It's a moment of insight, that hey, all this stuff I've been told is infallible, but now I see proof that part of it is wrong. And it goes the same, if that's wrong, maybe I need to question the rest...

But people (generally) are very good at clinging to things that they Really Really Want To Believe, religious or not. Goodness knows plenty of people stick to wacky diet schemes and woo woo quack cures.

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Two main things, both connected to exposure:

-Exposure to people who believe/do things differently. It's easy to think "All liberals/atheists/gays just haven't thought their beliefs through" until you meet one.

-Lack of exposure to the downside of religion. If you've never seen good people shunned/back-stabbed/kicked-out/judged in the name of religion it can be hard to see the downside.

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I was raised LDS/Mormon (so not fundie in the traditional sense, but there are some parallels) and read some Ex-Mormon blogs. The reasons I've read here are the same for people leaving Mormonism too... and I'd wager it would be the same for Muslims or other religions.

For me it was a combination - feeling like I didn't fit in, not feeling comfortable with the roles foisted on me (= "you are fe/male so you need to do this/wear that/go to this church program"), and feeling like the lessons just didn't make sense especially in relation to what I learned from science (Thankfully I wasn't shielded from those lessons! But even if I had, I don't think I would have stayed) I think the biggest thing for me was that I didn't have a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ even if I prayed, went to church, etc. I couldn't hear or feel "the sweet, soft promptings" of the Holy Ghost. And when I started going to Catholic church with my grandfather, it only solidified my thoughts that there can't be One True Church. It wasn't a big step for me to come to the conclusion that lead me to call myself an atheist :)

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I think this may be key.

It may be that if someone finds they don't fit in, they feel a failure, etc in fundie-dome they seem to go to 1 of 2 extremes, either they say "I must not be trying hard enough" and throw themselves farther into it or they say "well, why is having the perfect headscarf important" (which leads to more questions)

This was me, too. Add in semi-unsupervised trips to the library and a love of getting the bug-eyed reactions from people. :shifty:

I'm guessing that a combination of a strong-willed personality (a la Dobson's terminology) and an inclination towards questioning does a lot, too.

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I know for myself, growing up with my mom and step-dad in a secular environment was fine until home life went to hell and I ended up choosing to move in with my dad and step-mom who are fundie-light. I went all in try to gain I guess the word is acceptance and feel at home in the lifestyle. The one that drew me in was the stability of it all. The full acceptance lasted from 16-20ish. I started questioning it the more I actually read about the lifestyle and things my step-sister (who is very fundie) kept bringing up. The purity part is what ended up pushing me away from the movement. As well as, I couldn't accept that certain people I care deeply for are going to hell just because of their life choices. Now I am to the point where I pretend and will go along with a lot of what my sister says and brings up to keep the peace. I may not like how the kids are being raised but that is how they are choosing to do so (and I haven’t seen abuse, just brainwashing (which is a type of abuse but not one I can report). I keep the door open should any of them want to leave and have a safe place to go to (they are still very young, but I have a feeling that my 2nd nephew is going to be the one that breaks away first just because his personality is very independent).

Edited for riffles.

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Good thoughts, everyone.

Lissar, you mentioned that your home life was pretty awful and that that was one of the things that drove you away. I think the same could probably be said for people like Razing Ruth. On the flip side, could it be that people who are fairly happy and have most/all of their needs met within the fundamentalist sphere (the Duggar girls?) have little or no motivation to leave, despite the hatred, contradictions, and illogic that the worldview is based on? It's a scary thought, but important to consider, I think. I imagine this is the same reason some people remained loyal to fascism: their own personal needs and desires were being fulfilled within its parameters, so they really didn't pay much mind to people outside their sphere who were being hurt by the philosophy.

I think having your basic needs met is probably a big consideration for some fundy kids, whether or not they think of it consciously. It's come up a few times that the J'Slaves might not want to get married because that would likely mean moving to a lower rung on life's ladder -- too little money (possible poverty), too many kids to watch alone, possibly moving away and losing the only friends/support network they have (each other). A lot of that (except the too many kids thing) would be true if they (or any other reasonably well off fundy kids) up and ran away too, plus they've likely been taught to fear the outside world anyway. It would take an exceptional person or an exceptionally good reason to leave reasonable security (shelter+food needs met) for a complete unknown, no matter what they privately think of QF/patriarchy. Now if things start to fall apart, that's a different story. Or if one sibling gets out, others might follow (like Ruth's sister), because they'd have at least some support outside the system.

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In the fundie-lite subculture I grew up in there are a significant amout who leave (like DH and I and most of our friends) and many who stay.

We have discussed this at length and it seems that for many, many young adults who stay they are "roped in" very late in adolescence -- get married and have children in late teens/early 20's and need/value the structure of the church family to help them while they are trying to simultaneously learn how to 1) be a parent, 2) be a spouse, 3) start a career and 4) pay the bills. A support system of older people who have successfully done those things certainly can be helpful and is built-in when you are a tithe-paying, church-attending fundie.

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In the fundie-lite subculture I grew up in there are a significant amout who leave (like DH and I and most of our friends) and many who stay.

We have discussed this at length and it seems that for many, many young adults who stay they are "roped in" very late in adolescence -- get married and have children in late teens/early 20's and need/value the structure of the church family to help them while they are trying to simultaneously learn how to 1) be a parent, 2) be a spouse, 3) start a career and 4) pay the bills. A support system of older people who have successfully done those things certainly can be helpful and is built-in when you are a tithe-paying, church-attending fundie.

It's interesting to me to think of this because it was the exact opposite for me: it was when I was trying to do all those things simultaneously that I began to see that the support was actually control, the encouragement was manipulation and the teaching was counter-productive to what my new husband and I need to succeed in our marriage and our life. I couldn't see through the kool-aid until I got married, and then my husband and I left together.

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I think having your basic needs met is probably a big consideration for some fundy kids, whether or not they think of it consciously. It's come up a few times that the J'Slaves might not want to get married because that would likely mean moving to a lower rung on life's ladder -- too little money (possible poverty), too many kids to watch alone, possibly moving away and losing the only friends/support network they have (each other). A lot of that (except the too many kids thing) would be true if they (or any other reasonably well off fundy kids) up and ran away too, plus they've likely been taught to fear the outside world anyway. It would take an exceptional person or an exceptionally good reason to leave reasonable security (shelter+food needs met) for a complete unknown, no matter what they privately think of QF/patriarchy. Now if things start to fall apart, that's a different story. Or if one sibling gets out, others might follow (like Ruth's sister), because they'd have at least some support outside the system.

I'm sure this is true for many, and particularly so when fundamentalist parents put their kids in a situation where they are ill-equipped to fend for themselves. The girls are often actively discouraged from pursuing higher education and explicitly taught to prepare themselves for subservient roles, but even the boys seem to be warned against pursuing more traditional career paths that would oblige them to absorb instruction from worldly authorities--professors, etc. When you consider that these kids' entire quality of life depends on toeing the religious party line--and when they have virtually no prospects of creating a similar quality of life on their own--it's very understandable that many of them choose to stuff down whatever doubts they may have about their lifestyle. The tight-knit communities within fundamentalist families definitely encourage conformity, too. I've always thought that's a big reason why so many Amish youth opt to join the church after their rumspringa--they don't want to jeopardize the close ties they have with their friends and relatives.

I've asked myself many times: If I'd been born into a Duggar-like family, would I have had the courage to strike out on my own? I'd like to think, of course, that I would have. But I have to admit that I can't be sure.

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I recently watched the Louis Theroux documentary on the WBC group "America's Most Hated Family in Crisis" (his follow-up, not the original), and was surprised that the members who had recently left the church were more kicked out than left on their own. They were breaking relatively small rules and didn't expect to get shunned entirely by the church. It was very sad for both the people who got kicked out and their families. I suppose an overreaction of the fundamentalist community to rule-breaking is one way for people to leave, but I don't think I can answer why some people are given a harder time than others who do similar amounts of rule-breaking.

I don't think I would have left a fundamentalist community if I were kept as sheltered as many families try to keep their kids--I am very much a go with the flow person. But I don't think I would be as happy, either.

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It's interesting to me to think of this because it was the exact opposite for me: it was when I was trying to do all those things simultaneously that I began to see that the support was actually control, the encouragement was manipulation and the teaching was counter-productive to what my new husband and I need to succeed in our marriage and our life. I couldn't see through the kool-aid until I got married, and then my husband and I left together.

Aubrietta: I can certainly see that many could go the way you did! I'm not sure what the difference is between those who see it as "control" versus "support." Have you experienced the people you grew up with left in the same manner? I've also noticed that some of those who "strayed" went back soon after having children because they (seemingly) couldn't figure out how to teach morals without using Jesus - they just weren't taught about being a good person but rather that we should behave well because that's just what the Bible teaches. What a simple example of legalism....

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Raised fundie-lite, am now liberal, gay, and an atheist (though that last one is fairly new--still coming to terms with that). According to my mother, I questioned what I was taught even as a toddler. Like others have said, I never felt like I fit in with the fundie culture. I could never just believe, unlike the other kids, and I had sympathy for people with different viewpoints, which was a huge problem when you're supposed to think that everyone who disagrees with the fundie Christian worldview is completely wrong and should be mocked for their beliefs. I also didn't really fit into the prescribed gender roles, which was frustrating for everyone.

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I think family order and gender may play a certain rule in it as well. The oldest of a family like that may either be the most resigned to that fate or spend the most time contemplating a way to break off.

I feel like women have less of a chance to get away, but the boys, who are given more freedom, may start slowly stepping away as they begin to taste that freedom. Look at Smugs. I doubt he'll ever leave the gravytrain, but he does things different from his parents. Jana is the oldest girl, and she's following exactly the path her parents laid out.

It's an interesting thought, though.

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Aubrietta: I can certainly see that many could go the way you did! I'm not sure what the difference is between those who see it as "control" versus "support." Have you experienced the people you grew up with left in the same manner? I've also noticed that some of those who "strayed" went back soon after having children because they (seemingly) couldn't figure out how to teach morals without using Jesus - they just weren't taught about being a good person but rather that we should behave well because that's just what the Bible teaches. What a simple example of legalism....

As to support vs control and returning after children, everybody I know that left has children, and no one has returned. Now, to be fair, some people moved away to different parts of the country for work, so coming back after children isn't an option, but I do know that they either don't go to church, or have chosen much more liberal congregations to be a part of.

Actually, the fundie-dom and departing forged a tight group of relationships, and there are a few of us that get together ever year from all parts of the country to catch up. Sometimes, going through hell and coming out gives you some good friends.

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