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5/2/09                                                                                       View Comments

I don't want to be like them; I want to be like me

Sent in by Yak

11 Cloned Men Went To Mow, Went To Mow A Meadow !Image by Bobasonic via Flickr

I grew up in fundamentalist Christianity, and moved between a few flavors of it over the years before leaving because of the confusion, pain and the encouraged abuse of self and others. It still triggers painful feelings and thoughts for me when I see and hear others who are still involved in it acting out.

All the time that I was involved in it I knew intuitively and felt viscerally that things were not right: the conflicted messages of "God's love" and simultaneous condemnation of others, the imposed strictures on how one dresses, grooms, believes, treats others and even thinks, based on an interpretation of a book, a personage, and rigid adherence to a set of rules about living, thinking and behaving.

Besides the compulsion to control and to be condescending to all non-Christians, they were and continue to be in an escalating conflict with each other: all of those groups follow the same book and personages, but condemn all others who claimed to do the same. It is crazy-making thinking and I found no peace in it, in others who were involved in it, or in their teaching.

I've learned over the years as I've taken responsibility for myself and my feelings about my experiences that some descriptions that are used to describe fundamentalist behavior are "thought control" and "codependency." Both of those descriptions are, I feel, well-founded because they both indicate that a person is attached in an unhealthy way to a way of thinking that invites and encourages boundary invasion, inappropriate behavior, all-or-none thinking and behaving and, frequently, some form of abuse.

In fact, some of the behavior that I witnessed and is sanctioned by fundamentalist Christianity is child abuse. Beating children in church has been featured in the news and, fortunately for the children involved and for others who have witnessed it in person or through the news media, some of the perpetrators were jailed and fined. Their beliefs in a book or personage have given them permission to perpetrate violence and to isolate, shun or even harm "backsliding" members of their own families. In it's more extreme forms, those same beliefs permit them to kill, as is witnessed in fundamentalist Islam and Hinduism, as well.

Perhaps those who have witnessed the behavior, either in person or in the media, can be a bit freer now and can feel empowered to question what they see and what they've been told. Maybe they can make a decision to report the abuses and to stop the madness in their own lives by learning to say "No." The message might help their minds to start opening.

I read a book recently called "To Heaven Though Hell," which is the story of a person who has survived the ravaging effects of fundamentalist Christianity and can talk about it in a way that names the problems without sounding disparaging, and in a way that is respectful, honest and tells of the pain and abuses. Though the author has a belief in certain notions that I do not share, I am glad to have read her story. Though I am no longer a Christian, I found her story empowering and it helped remind me that I'm not alone having survived the abuses. Her story told parts of my story and my pain in the context that I can identify with. I lived the life with the pain caused by the active addiction of fundamentalism and, like her, I got out and got free. Our paths diverge at that point, but we shared a little of the way and that was enough.

For me, it is good to read someone who presents the problem of fundamentalism in the light of an honest search for a solution, rather than simply as a rant or a projection of personal unresolved suffering. As a former fundamentalist, I know that those who are still involved are prepared for those of us who are ready to make all the arguments about the irrationality of religion, logic and the "conflicted book and belief" attack. They train for it in "apologetics" classes in churches and schools. So, if I try to go at them with one of those arguments, they already know how to deflect it and I'm wasting breath and probably deserve the label that they place on me.

I've engaged in a lot of ranting over the years because of my own unresolved pain and I've discovered that ranting frequently shuts down other people's minds. They see me coming and stop listening when I go on the attack and I lose an opportunity to present an alternative to them. Telling my story and keeping a cool head seem to work better. I've discovered that naming the abuses that I witnessed, and telling the specifics of my own pain and experience go a lot longer distance than firing a rant at them.

I could choose to be a fundamentalist atheist, but that makes me just like them. And I don't want to be just like them. I want to be like me. That's the choice I've made.

I think that if true freedom of mind can exist, minds have to be open. And I don't want to knowingly shut someone else's mind. That would be counter-productive.

Yak

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