Are You My Enemy?

Imagine that you are growing up in a culture that believes it is fighting a war. From infancy you are taught the dangers of the enemy. You are taught what you must look out for and what you must say. You are taught what you must be aware of and from a child you are taught to be a good soldier. You are taught to be brave and to fight the good fight. You are taught that if need be you should even be willing to die for your cause. You are taught that all outsiders are against your cause. That those who don’t believe as you do would seek to overthrow all you hold dear and do great harm to all of you. Your culture must be defended at all costs.

Time goes on and you grow older. You prepare yourself for battle and you dream of your first encounter. Oh, how you will vanquish your foes when you finally meet in glorious combat! Oh, the acclaim you will win for the cause! And finally you venture forth shakily brandishing your rhetoric only to find that no army awaits. You try to convince yourself that a few encounters with strangers were skirmishes but as time goes on you realize that the most hostile participant was yourself. You are stymied. You expected to find an army in grand array but instead you found a civilization of people. People who loved and laughed and cried and lived freely.

And after sometime you begin to accept that this is real. And you begin to wonder and hope. Maybe you, too, can live this free life. Maybe you can lay down your weapons. Maybe you can live without fear of attack. Your spirits lift. You begin to feel joy. You want to rush home and tell your family and friends and community the wonderful news. There is no war. You don’t have to fight. You can be free. But if you tell them suddenly you become everything they have prepared all their lives to defend themselves from. You become the outsider who would tear them down and who seeks to destroy them.

You become the enemy.

But all you wanted for them was freedom and the peace of knowing that they don’t have to fight.

Can you imagine this? If you can then maybe you can understand a little bit of what it is like to convert to atheism (or simply relax your views a bit more than is “acceptable”) after growing up in a conservative religious environment. Maybe you can understand the nausea and pain and fear of those who leave their faiths but cannot retain relationships with those they love and care about. Some persons who leave behind a deeply religious faith face actual physical danger. Others face only the opposition of attitude and perception but don’t underestimate the power of attitude. It hurts to realize that you are now the nightmare about which people tell their children. It hurts to realize that suddenly your point of view has become invalid because you disagree on theology. Suddenly you are a non-entity. Everything you do or say has become suspect. Your actions will be judged based on the new perception that you are enemy and no longer based on who you are.

It hurts.

If there were a Hell this is what it would feel like.

Fundamentalism is Fundamentally Flawed

I started writing this as an answer to a stranger who asked me a question on a friend’s Facebook post. I was planning to dash off a few thoughts off the top of my head but I am so invested in this subject that once I got going I really had a hard time stopping. The discussion that was the impetus for this post was a debate of whether fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity were anything alike. I say they are. Sure, Muslims worship Allah and Christians worship Jesus but I believe that if one takes any religion to extremes the kind of society created can be very similar in how it affects the members’ points of view of themselves, of the other members of their religion, of members of branches of their religion that hold key differences, and of outsiders. As I see it extremist religion downplays the value of a human life and humanity in comparison with the upholding of a certain code. Members fear what will happen to them if they dare question the rules and frequently feel obliged to prove to other members that they are truly devout. Outsiders are condemned and evil and newcomers are welcome but mistrusted. Human rights violations are rampant. Because members have a code to which they must adhere they also have a standard for judging whether they are better than others thereby encouraging attitudes of pride and entitlement. Because of a code that cannot be questioned and must be upheld whatever the cost otherwise sane people can find themselves justifying horrible acts in the name of their religion. They consider themselves better persons for having done reprehensible things.

That is not to say that all religious persons actually WILL do horrible things in the name of their religion. I know a number of religious people who are very kind to everyone they meet no matter how different they are. They have a general respect for humanity and personhood and treat others accordingly. Most of these people are Christian as I’ve had the greatest exposure to members of Christianity though I’ve met kind and sagacious persons from other religions as well. But these people do not fit into what I categorize as religious extremists. In the discussion I was asked to state some of the beliefs of extreme fundamentalist Christians I have met. My family was in the fringe area between mainstream and fundamentalist when I was growing up and I had a lot of exposure to the fundie elements and even believed in some of it at one point. Extreme religious fundamentalism is very difficult to shake off even when one barely counted as fundie. It requires a massive reprogramming of the brain and significant change of thought patterns. It can also leave one distinctively wary of organized religion. Once upon a time the things on this list did not seem nearly as crazy to me as they do now hence the sarcasm. While I definitely didn’t believe everything I list below, the idea that anything on this list could ever have appeared to be less ridiculous to me than it does now is a bit of a sore spot. This may be why this bit of writing evolved from a Facebook comment into a blog post. I could say a great deal more on the subject but I digress. Without further ado I present my list of Various Beliefs of Fundamentalist Christians.

1. All members of the family are completely subject to the father’s authority. What dad says goes and that’s final. There is zero chance that dad is wrong as far as those under his “authority” are concerned.

2. Women can not hear from God directly. They must trust their father or husband to divine God’s Will in their lives. God apparently doesn’t speak to women.

3. Girls should not move outside the home. If they do they will be out from under their father’s protection and will likely come to harm. Girls are naive and vulnerable and if they go anywhere or do anything even mildly sketchy and something bad happens to them it’s all their fault.

4. Men can’t control themselves when they see a beautiful woman. They immediately become animals and cannot contain their passionate and raging hormones. Therefore…

5. Ladies! When in doubt cover it up. A lady must be modest. Being modest means… Well, nobody actually knows what modesty is therefore it is necessary to poll all the conservative boys to ascertain what things are likely to cause them to “lust”. How do we know when their lust problem starts being their problem and not this heinous thing from which we’re supposed to be protecting them? We don’t. So, just forget the potato sack and start wearing a hijab. Oh, and add a giant sombrero with curtains.

6. RESPECT AUTHORITY!!! Actually this would be better stated as COWER UNDER THE ALL-POWERFUL THUMBS OF THE GREAT AND BENEVOLENT BEINGS WHO ARE IN AUTHORITATIVE POSITIONS IN YOUR LIFE!!! Most fundamentalist authorities I have come across seem to define respect as “not disagreeing” rather than “being polite and showing consideration for the other’s point of view.

7. Question everything else but your own religion. Remember, it’s better to believe the truth without actual proof than to wait to believe it once you are given proof. Those who believe without needing anything proved to them will have a greater reward in Heaven.

8. Only respect people you agree with. If you disagree with someone it is your divine calling to convince that person he is wrong. If you don’t try and he goes to Hell that is on you. You must badger people with your religious point of view even if they are already familiar with it and find you annoying. You should try to be less annoying because that will scare them off but don’t stop badgering.

9. There is no such thing as sexual consent. Outside of marriage, sex is wrong; inside of marriage, sex is good. You don’t really need to know anything else.

10. Oh, and by the way, do NOT talk about sex. We must maintain the mystique. Information may cause lust. Your sexuality is not a part of you until the day you marry. Then it comes on and life works like a dream with fireworks and sparkles and 25 kids, too. But until you marry you really don’t even need to know that boys and girls do not have identical genitalia. Sexual knowledge causes lust.

11. Lust is bad. Apparently, lust can be defined as “being physically turned on by something or someone”. It doesn’t matter whether you decided to follow that lust bunny trail or not. You are a sinner. You must repent.

12. Homosexuality does not exist. Homosexuals are completely demented people who would twist and pervert the ways of the righteous. Every homosexual everywhere who simply acknowledges the fact that their desires are not heterosexual is waging war on the Kingdom of God by existing. Homosexuality must be completely wiped out. Oh, and it’s alright for girls to hold hands with each other because homosexuality isn’t a real thing and fundamentalist raised girls holding hands is completely innocent and non-sexual but God forbid if a girl holds hands with a boy. Sex! We mustn’t discuss it but we seriously have to shut that down. Sex always happens if a boy and girl are left together by themselves.

13. Do not slander. This basically means don’t say anything bad about the people in charge. This is disrespecting their authority and compromising to their witness and/or ministry. By all means we must protect any means of bringing others into the fold. The salvation of the world is at stake. Why are you focusing on Brother So-and-So’s manipulative tendencies, Pastor So-and-So’s anger management issues, and Brother You-Know-Who’s alleged multiple rape accusations? If we damage his reputation the reputation of the entire church could be destroyed. Think of all the people who will go to Hell if you bring this up in public and besides these people are holy men (or women) of God and couldn’t possibly ever do anything so scandalous as that.

14. Do not trust any information that originates outside of the church. Those other churches that are so lenient with everybody do not count as church either. There is always an agenda behind everything that happens. At the top of this worldwide agenda is eliminating Christianity (by which we mean our interpretation of it) from existence. Non-Christians spend all the time they don’t spend on sinful pursuits of pleasure dreaming up ways to rid society of Christians. All differing religions and points of view want to annihilate Christianity. They can’t help it. Demons put them up to it.

15. All problems are demonic in origin. As if we don’t have enough trouble getting life right without the demons. Psychology isn’t a thing. If you’re worried or stressed or depressed you haven’t prayed enough. Demons are the root of the problem. And if you have a psychiatric condition you should probably consider seeing an exorcist. That’s not okay and you’re subjecting the rest of us to demonic oppression if you don’t get rid of your own demons. Of course, we’ll pray for you no matter what.

16. Do not gossip… But if you must, couch it as a prayer request. Prayer requests are good because prayer gets rid of demons and if you have problems then you have lots of demons and we can help you get rid of them if you’ll just tell us what is wrong with you so we can pray. We will start a prayer chain for you. We promise we will not take any pleasure in sharing your concerns and discussing your shortcomings.

17. This is not an age of reason. The general populace is not generally enlightened. WE are the only enlightened ones. Everybody else is completely in the dark. No one else knows as much as us. (I mean, look at us. You’d think people would eventually figure out that learning about sex is bad. Why do people keep sending their kids to college? They don’t need that. If they knew what we knew they wouldn’t send them.) We must show everybody the light but at the same time be vigilant so we are not swayed by their logic. Pragmatism is evil because it says that nobody can know the truth but we know this is wrong because we, the enlightened, already know the truth. We’ve been telling you the truth all along but you just won’t listen to us. Our kids are going to get all their education at home because we don’t want any philosophy or science classes taking our children away from the One True Path of Righteousness.

18. Men should not wear skirts. This is women’s clothing and is sinful for men to wear. We will make an exception for kilts which we do not call skirts nor do we acknowledge the similarity between kilts and skirts and we sharply reprimand anyone who brings that up. Women should not wear trousers because they are men’s clothing and it is sinful to wear. Exceptions may be made in some cases depending on who is calling the shots but they will not be made in all and we will try to make exceptions hard to come by if we can.

19. Do not be vain (especially girls). Your looks aren’t important. What you do is important. If you do not toe the line or act like we think you should then you are very ugly no matter what your face looks like. You should not wear form flattering clothes. This will draw unnecessary attention to yourself. A lady is demure and not distracting. You should also be neat and tidy. Do not repulse anyone with your presence. Wear clothes that direct the eyes towards your joyful countenance. If you wear makeup it should be as natural as possible. No getting artsy and creative with it unless you are in a play (preferably a rendition of Pilgrim’s Progress). Men do not wear makeup at all unless they are playing Pilgrim or Faithful or some such.

20. Count it all joy! Joy and happiness are different. Happiness depends on your circumstances. Joy means you don’t care how much life sucks now because Heaven is going to be awesome (providing you manage to get the whole set of jewels in your crown for good behavior). So, even if you’re mad or sad or depressed you’re actually happy –er– joyful because you know it’s just the passing pain of this earthly life so you can just paste a smile on that glowing countenance of yours and say you’re great because your eternal future is secure. Also, talking about problems ruins your witness. Basically, fake it till you make it… to Heaven, that is.

21. Should you happen to discover our shortcomings do not dare judge us for them! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have confessed our sins to God who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. So don’t come telling us how bad we are for all the things you think we have done wrong. We have been washed clean and are no longer guilty but pure and perfect lambs. Why must you persecute us so?