"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: The Fundamentalists: Present and Former

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Fundamentalists: Present and Former

Sara Robinson, guest-blogger for Orcinus, uses her recent post to describe how people become fundamentalists and how they leave. Before presenting a list of seven common exit-routes, she powerfully expresses how difficult leaving can be:

We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them. Leaving the safety of the authoritarian belief system is a three-to-five year process. Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you've ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity. On the scale of relative trauma, it's right up there with a divorce after a long marriage; and it requires about the same amount and kind of grieving.
Many notes in this post ring true to my experience, but I need to make a few exceptions. First I would never characterize my upbringing as abusive. Second, I'm skeptical of pathologizing political opponents, and Sara may be falling into this problem when she echoes thoughts from James Dean's recent book Conservatives Without Conscience, which is "ideological comfort food" in the words of Nick Gillespie.


  1. Thanks for that link over to Sarah's article on Orcinus. Long, but excellent analysis of some of the ways out of fundamentalism.

    For myself, I think it was the university that had the biggest impact. Although I was resolutely fundamentalist during my college years, the seeds were planted and once I got out of college and got into the "real world," they sprouted.

  2. Wow. Very interesting. Fundamentalism is pervasive even in so-called progressive churches. This week our kids are in bible camp at the church we (usually) attend. The camp is run by college kids, and today when I arrived near dismissal time, I heard a chirpy counselor ask the kids "Ok, what are we thankful for?" A small boy moaned that he was NOT thankful for the heat (it was hot today). Ms. Chirpy said: "But we ARE thankful, right?" and blah, blah, blah about the benefits of the sun. She then led them in singing "I wanna be a sheep."

    What the?

    My kids LOVE this camp, but will I have to deprogram them each day? Good LORD.

    When I mentioned this to another parent, she laughed and told me the story of Squirrel Jesus. A Sunday school teacher asked her students to tell her what animal was small, brown and furry with a bushy tail. After a long silence, a little girl blurted out: "Well, I know it's supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel!"

    THAT in a nutshell, is what is wrong with fundamentalism. And why those of us working within the church to speak up when we see it.

    Looking back at my own life, the fundy vision began to falter when I saw hypocricy among the authorities, when my experiences (good and bad) were invalidated by the religion, and when I experienced over a long period of time the unwavering trust and love of a nonjudgmental person. This began in my teens but gained steam in college.

    But I'm still "learning how to live free."

  3. Many Trails Home8/14/2006 05:18:00 PM

    There's quite a conversation going over on the "Ileftheoalc" site. I have to quote this from hp3 (8/6 at 7:52) as it really hit me. I believe she is a recent ex and so her observations, if of current practice, are chilling. (I have made minor punctuation changes only).
    "Oh, and the OALC preaches: don't believe God or the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals, only to them. In fact, it is preached as a sin to research what was preached about (and compare it) with what the Bible says. Bible studies are evil, and it's a sin to question what the preachers say. Those are doubts that need to be asked forgiveness for. But if you are all ex's, you knew that.

    I was very angry at the existing members who were defending their beliefs by the method of DENYING WHAT I PERSONALLY EXPERIENCED." (caps are mine).

    Whew, that hit a whole bunch of nails on the head (to quote cvow, who, with free, have responded to hp3 on that site). Just thinking about it really gets me going. When I was having a "religious" argument (how stupid of me, but there you go) with my mom a couple of years ago, I suggested that I communicated with God directly, asked him questions and listened for answers, etc. Any of you ex-OALCers will know how dumb that was. She became irate, incensed, and started yelling at me that it couldn't possibly be God, it had to be the devil. I saw red, that she should be so arrogant, that she was so sure SHE KNEW the mind of God. I had to choke down my fury and vowed never to get so angry again. And my whole purpose for the discussion or argument was to take her off the hook for the responsibility for my soul. Not possible.
    So much is not possible, when dealing with family in the OALC. Many blessings to us all - we sure need it. MTH

  4. Yes, the old fundamental question about what attitude to take regarding the sincere zealots. Years ago, having been a bit disgruntled about the local school system investigated some private school alternatives. Some of these were local Christian schools and I wasn't particularly opposed to that notion so I had them send some info. Well, as it happens, there was an inappropriately long list of rules about how to dress when you pick up your kids. No shorts on women, no smoking in the car, and etc. and after reading this I thought again about jumping in bed with that view of the world. I lacked the sufficient study time to come up to speed and suffice it to say I kept my kids in the public school.

    I am sitting here reading about MTH's experience with her mom regarding her “heathen” practice of talking to God. And, really, MTH, how do you know you weren’t talking to the devil? When we were growing up being educated on the realities of living in the modern world, great intelligence and guile was attributed to the devil. He was like Einstein, Lance Burton, and Al Capone all in one deceptive doughnut. One has to be supremely watchful to avoid this piece of work, because you never knew when he was going to materialize. He could even be in your anchovy pizza waiting to pounce. I used to wonder how he attained such stature. I haven’t been to a service in some time but it sounds as if it is really getting serious over on the range. It may be time to market my high confidence anti-world cocoon… specifically made to repel hedonists who talk to God and read the Bible.

  5. MTH, I know of what you speak. The devil was always at hand, ready to snatch us away, a finger or a toe at a time. We could never be sure what thoughts were from him, because he was so capable of disguise, so even our sunny or generous thoughts were likely self-righteous. That way madness lies!

    A memorable moment in my girlhood: wanting to recite the Lord's Prayer at bedtime, kneeling at my bed, just like the illustrations in the picture books (ever the romantic), hands clasped before me. But try as I might, I was not able to get even halfway without "the Devil" entering my thoughts. I gave up in exasperation, and didn't DARE try again.

  6. Old joke...two men, one leading a donkey, meet on the road. They get to discussing which of them is more capable of pious praying. The donkey owner finally said, "I'll bet you this donkey that you cannot say the Lord's Prayer without once thinking of something else." The other replied "You're on!" and began reciting the prayer. Halfway through, he suddenly stopped and asked "Does the bridle go with it?"

    This question has come up in many of the adult religion classes I teach. People are really distraught sometimes by what they feel is a lack of faith or strength or something because they cannot concentrate on a prayer or a sermon. I tell them that prayer is not about being perfect. Prayer is a conversation with God, and he certainly understands what's going on in our minds better than we do. Words aren't even necessary. Just let peace and quiet come into your heart and prayer happens. The Lord knows what we want and need -- we don't have to articulate it. I've joked about having the "carpenter's" hand on my shoulder in church some Sundays when I've come out knowing how to solve a problem with something I'm making in my woodshop. I actually believe that sometimes he communicates to me by saying "I'm with you, and we're ok. Now about that compound cut on that piece of trim..."

    Prayer is not about posture, but if you want to do it on your knees, then do it on your knees. If you want to say a familiar old prayer for its comfort and familiarity, then say it. If you want to express in your own words something you want to say, then give it your best shot. There is no wrong way to pray to God...and this I believe, Amen.

    MTH, you struck a chord about the family discussions. I stopped fighting years ago, and discovered that without me throwing rocks back there was no fight. That wasn't easy because I am far too willing to don the rusty old armor and go looking for windmills.

  7. Many Trails Home8/15/2006 11:57:00 AM

    Free, an administrative Q: I noticed on the ilefttheoalc site that the date of the post as well as the time is printed under each comment. Could that be incorporated here? Also, it's not easy to recognize when there are new posts on old threads but I guess there's not much to be done about that.

  8. MTH: speaking of new posts on old threads; I think you may have missed my response to your last post on "Depression: Let's Talk"

  9. Many Trails Home8/16/2006 12:05:00 AM

    Yes, I saw it Joy, and thanks for the response. By the way, I like your moniker. If we have Joy in our lives, we shouldn't need much else, should we?
    I like your comment about self-talk; right on. And if I am a little touchy about Bible quotes, you oughta just ignore me. I actually am very fond of Bible quotes myself, as long as they are ones of my own choosing!
    I am aware of the water crystal book that you mentioned (I have some very New Agey friends) and I frankly don't know what to make of it. Ignore Ilmarinen; he must be an engineer as he has a very odd sense of humor and is clearly close-minded!
    I enjoy your posts. Many blessings. MTH
    PS: thanks, Free. No sooner said than done. MTH

  10. I think cvow is right about the words and postures in prayer. If one is to follow the apostolic advice to "pray without ceasing" the deepest essence of prayer must be something else than words or postures, it's maybe rather a state of mind. Words and postures are just vocal and physical expressions of this state of mind.

  11. This is cool! I came home from work and started reading a book about the Syriac Orthodox church (whose traditional areas are in Syria, Eastern Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and India) which I've been reading for a while, and after a couple of pages I arrived at the following:

    "[In the Syriac Orthodox tradition] the prayer of the heart is understood rather as the remembrance of God and the loving constant and total awareness of his presence which leads to transfiguration."

    further on the book says (quoting a Syriac Orthodox monk):

    "We must not only teach the commandments of Christ, but we must live by them in daily life. The meaning of prayer is how to live and act with everyone, not only to pray in the church. Fasting is not only not eating, it is remembering to repent. If we live a Christian life, it is easy; if we speak about it, it is hard."

  12. Freqently during my stay away this
    this summer I pondered the
    "betrayal of self"proposition I
    mentioned earlier.

    Why do some at a very early age
    (including me} sense that what
    they are being taught is wrong?
    Why do they feel such guilt at
    such thoughts with resulting
    mental problems ?

    Where did this sense come from?

    Is it innate ?

    As the years go by the sense
    becomes increasingly reinforced
    and is repeatedly knocked down
    by the religous enforcers
    resulting in further mental

    To ease the pressure the
    chameleon approach is tried
    as Free relates.

    My technique to preserve the
    status quo with friends and
    relatives was to keep silent
    and rationalize my behavior
    to death.

    Finally I realized it was a
    "betrayal of self".

    The horse I am going to bet on
    in this salvation sweepstakes
    is me !