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Fundamentalism and Me

By Eric Jeffries --

As I approach the two-year anniversary of not speaking with my parents, and in light of a recent conversation, I wanted to share, rehash and reflect on what I've experienced and what I believe I've learned. Almost two years ago now, I decided to terminate my relationship with my parents. Some individuals, including my parents still don't understand my decision on the matter.

I don't believe in GodImage by ePi.Longo via Flickr
Most of you are aware of my background, born and raised Evangelical Christian. I played in the church orchestra, participated in praise and worship, went to church camps, instructed to speak in tongues, pray for the things you want / need, and above all keep inside the secure bubble of fundamental Christianity. I always had questions about the tenants of theology in my childhood. Most children have questions when you tell them things like; God created 1 man and 1 woman and that's how we got white people, brown people, black people, oriental people etc. Adam and Eve had children and they all had sex with each other, and that's how we came to be. Excuse me Sunday school teacher, but isn't incest wrong? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, child. Then a few thousand years later people became really evil, so God decided to kill everyone. God told Noah to build and ark, get two of every kind of animal and put them on the ark. But teacher, how did kangaroos and polar bears and koala bears get on the boat? God can do anything! Oh, OK then. So then Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives were the only survivors. After they got off the boat they repopulated the world. Wait through incest again? Really? Yes! The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it! Oh, OK then.

I lived in this fairytale world for probably the first 18 to 20 years of my life. I was nice and safe from the dark evil world in my nice little fundamentalist bubble. I didn't listen to music with swear words, I didn't see rated R movies. I didn't have secular friends, only other nice safe fellow bubble children. It wasn't until I started reaching what should be adulthood for most, that I started having some bigger questions. I started to wonder why, if Christians have the cornerstone on truth, can there then be so many really amazing non-Christians? Why if as a Christian I had all the answers, was I always so angry and why were things always getting so badly fucked up? Why if as a Christian I was supposed to be living in the freedom of Christ, but I always felt as though I was carrying around this heavy burden and as though my vision was dark and narrow?

Around the age of 21 or 22 I gathered up the courage to start attending other churches, not the Assemblies of God church that my parents currently attended. I say currently attended because ironically it was their 3rd A.of G church they'd attended since I was born. They left the first two because they had so many issues with the church leadership. I can fondly recall Sunday after Sunday after Sunday lunches spent, my parents and grandparents sitting around a table discussing all of the problems with the church, it's leadership, it's politics and how things should be done but aren't being done. After a number of these discussions I can remember thinking to myself, well then why the fuck do you still keep going. However at the time I didn't say fuck because I was a good kid :). So I began attending a post modern, seeker friendly mega church. I liked it at the time, it was much more hip, better music, you could buy coffee from the coffee shop, the services were 1.5 hours exactly (short and sweet compared to the 3 + hour long services I had experienced in the A of G.) I made some post modern christian friends and I was happy with my new environment.

It was at this point that I really started to butt heads with my parents on the subject of theology. I can remember the snide remarks of, "well your church is nice and all, it's just not spirit filled, there's no power there." I can remember feeling incensed at comments like this. This idea of being insulted in such a devious way greatly bothered me. It was at this point that I really began to understand that in fundamental Christian circles there's this invisible hierarchy of holiness. I apparently had chosen a less then holy church establishment and my parents and grandparents were making me aware of that fact. It was also around this point in time that I began having serious relationship issues. I went through a period of depression, hurt, confusion and a sense of being lost.

I began to ask myself some deeper, more personal questions. If Christianity was the end all be all, the way the truth and the light, the higher road, then; Why was I so angry? Why did I not seem to know how to love unconditionally? Furthermore why did my love and the love my parents expressed always seem like it came with conditions? Why did I and my parents alike seem to resort to guilt tripping and emotional manipulation to try to extort from others the actions we desired? Why did I and my parents become instantly angry / upset with someone when they disagreed with me / them? Why did it seem that if you disagreed you were automatically being disrespectful in my eyes and my parents alike? The questions built on themselves and continued on and on.

I spent much time soul searching, reading, researching and I spent A LOT of time thinking. In time I came to a number of conclusions. I began to see people, relationships, establishments, authority in a whole new light. You see, the constant jabs, the not so subtle reminders that I was attending a "less powerful" church never ceased. Instead added to this now was the holiday guilt trips. My parents thought that for holidays I needed to be respectful and attend not just any church, but their "spirit filled" A of G church. If i refused I was put on guilt trips for hurting my parents feelings and being disrespectful on say; mothers day, fathers day, Christmas, Easter etc.

"Well the Bible says it so I believe it," and if that was good enough for her, it should be good enough for me too. As I continued on my journey I came to a number of realizations. A major one being that most Fundamental folks don't know the first thing about love. What they know is emotional manipulation masquerading and labeled as love. You either agree, or you're disrespectful. If you break from the ranks you're ridiculed, guilt tripped, immediately it's open season and your self esteem is in the cross hairs. It's a method of extortion so subversive, so devious that it permeates every aspect of their way of life. As I began to learn and grow in my own right, I stopped attending church all together. At this point in time, I was still living with my parents and attending church once a week was a condition of my living arrangements. I however no longer saw a need for church, furthermore I saw the voluntary subjugation of self esteem less then desirable. I no longer saw fit to sacrifice my intellect, self esteem, and freedom at an altar. I wanted to be free. However, in order to avoid what I saw as unnecessary and meaningless conflict, I merely chose to lie to my parents and tell them I was attending church, when I in fact wasn't. I stopped going to church almost a full year before I moved out of their house, most of that time they thought I had been attending. But it was always the same argument every time and I was tired of it. "You live in my house, those are the rules." any and all attempts at logical, rational conversation failed miserably. I simply was giving up on them.

A good friend of mine just shared with me that he is dealing with an almost identical situation. "It's father's day, you need to come to church with us." I don't want to go to church with you, I don't agree with it, and the guilt trip commences. My friend is and has been an Atheist for a while, living in the household of fundamental theists. He's been experiencing some serious confrontations. His conversations (if you can even call them that) always go the same way, just as mine did. You try to appeal to them with logic, reasoning, history, philosophy, psychology, common sense and it all fails miserably and the conversation degenerates into them attacking your self esteem, attempting to make you feel guilty, threaten you with the wrath of hell, etc.

Two years ago when I knew I was finally at a point where I was going to be moving out, and a decent distance away from my parents, I knew I was going to have the opportunity to determine the grounds of my relationship with them for the first time. I began putting feelers out, the more confident I became in the knowledge that I was going to be independent, the less fear I had in speaking my mind. I came to a point where I determined that if I was going to have any type of relationship with my parents they were going to have to be able to respect me and my opinions, they didn't have to agree, but they sure as hell were going to have to treat me like an adult. I remember what was pretty much the last conversation I attempted to have with my mother on the subject of theology. She didn't know at the time that I was a closet non-theist / Atheist - Agnostic, call it whatever you'd like, I just knew I didn't believe in the Bible or the God of the Bible anymore. However I was careful, I simply started sharing some questions I had, things I found unbelievable, impossible, unrealistic, etc. To which her response was calm, but always, "Well the Bible says it so I believe it," and if that was good enough for her, it should be good enough for me too. We talked for a couple hours, all the while I'm sure she just assumed I was just a doubting Christian, probably unaware that I had a lot more to say but was holding back. The conversation ended however, when I was talking to my mother about the fundamentalist view of the holy spirit, and the A of G's position on the holy spirit. I was bringing up the fact that not even the Bible itself supports the denominations stance on the trinity, holy spirit, speaking in tongues etc. It was at this point that my father walked into the room, said don't talk to my wife about these matters and then kicked me out of their room and slammed the door in my face. It was in that instance that I knew an adult, mutually respectful relationship wasn't a possibility.

I moved out shortly after and haven't looked back once. The last two years have been the happiest, unburdened, free and loving two years of my life. There isn't a second that goes by that I wish my parents were a part of my life. Cutting them out of my sphere of influence was the best decision I feel I've ever made. I know this probably sounds harsh to some people, and you're entitled to your opinion. However I made this decision based on what I knew about myself, what I knew about them, and what I wanted out of life. I don't regret it for a moment. There have been times that I've wondered, I thought well maybe after a year of not seeing them or speaking to them I'll want to try to reconnect with them on neutral ground. A year came and passed, I never felt the desire, I in fact was quite content not having them in my life. I had a couple conversations with close friends on the matter, and they tried to instill a sense of hope in me, that maybe one day soon they'd be able to treat me and respect me as an adult. For some time I considered that perhaps I was being too hard on them. Perhaps I was being equally immature by giving them a year and a half long silent treatment. It was then at the end of March, out of the blue I receive the following text message from my father, after 1.5 years of not having seen each other or having spoken:
"Don't you think it's time you climb out of your pit of self pity and self distruation? disruptation"
Now I'm not sure what he was trying to say, perhaps self pity and destruction, I'm not sure. However the attitude was conveyed clearly. It only reinforced my feeling that even still after what is now almost two years of silence on my part, they would be unable to treat me with respect.

I write this not to justify my actions, I don't feel the need to prove myself to anyone on these matters. I made these decisions intimately, personally, and I've given them much thought and care. I write this for two reasons. Reason #1 being to try to give further clarity to friends and family about the position I've taken. Reason #2 to let others know that if you are / have experienced similar situations you are not alone.

I am in no way advocating that others follow my lead. I made my decision based on my own personal experience and using my best judgment. If you or people you know are experiencing a family situation where they feel that they simply can't be honest, be them self, have open adult, mature conversations about subjects, or if a family member simply sucks the life out of you, you need to deal with it in your own way. But please for the sake of your self esteem, your sanity, and your happiness, don't subjugate your self esteem to any individual simply to keep the peace.