In You Are Your Own author Jamie Lee Finch describes herself growing up as an anxious and serious young girl. That was me I thought as I listened to her voice reading her book. I was that serious child, fearing the world around me, believing I didn’t fit in, afraid for my hell-bound peers, the responsibility weighing heavily on me.
Could it be that I’m not this girl at all?
This was my story. I’m this serious girl who’s afraid of the devils out in the world. It wasn’t until I listened to Finch’s audio book that it struck me that I might be a product of the fundamentalist Evangelical movement’s ideas that were so popular in the eighties as she explains.
Could it be that I’m not this girl at all? Is it possible that the story I was convinced was mine isn’t really who I am at my core?
Finch speaks about the pressure and guilt she felt around converting people. I cringe with the memory of my telling the Jesus-died-for-you-on-the-cross story to one of my disabled friends in my bedroom after school, hoping and praying Jesus would take care of the rest.
A topic in the book is purity culture and how the implementation of this was a calculated response of Evangelical leaders to the sexual revolution in the sixties. I don’t remember the term “purity culture” being used in The Netherlands but I know the sexual education of the Evangelical and Orthodox Christian youth was that of abstinence before marriage. Finch writes about the guilt and shame when it comes to sexual desires and the devastating effects this had on her health and body image. She speaks of becoming disconnected from her feelings to the point of not knowing what she herself liked. This too rings true for me.
In an environment in which you were taught that your own thoughts and feelings could be inspired by the devil, how can you trust yourself? How do you learn to know what your intuition is? How do you know what you yourself like?
In an environment in which you were taught that your own thoughts and feelings could be inspired by the devil, how can you trust yourself?
People sometimes ask me what my sexuality is. Am I straight, gay, bisexual? I still haven’t given myself permission to know, really know and feel who I am and what I like. I know what love is. I don’t need to answer other people’s curiosities. I’ve come to believe that most people are fluid when you come right down to it. However, I know now that I missed an important part in my development: a healthy sexual image and development in which I could explore safely without shame and guilt. This has had damaging consequences for me personally that I struggle with to this day.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you are bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). No, You Are Your Own Jamie Lee aptly titles her book. She writes about religious trauma rooted in Evangelical Christianity using scholarly research. Since I’ve experienced both Evangelical and Orthodox Christian communities, I am confident this book will resonate with the latter group as well.
What is my story if I wasn’t that fearful serious young girl? I look at my daughter now, who is twenty-four years old. Even though I still held rigid black and white beliefs inside me, I knew I couldn’t impose them upon my children. I wanted them to move in the world freely and with confidence. And she does and she has.
It’s time for a new story.
Last night we were talking with a group of friends on why people are drawn to religion or cults. I was born into religion and as such didn’t make a conscious and informed decision to join a church, but I do have thoughts on this.
Why do people join groups and clubs of any kind? We understand that a sense of belonging and community is a basic human need. There is the social need to share experiences. So is the need to feel special and being acknowledged. We can grasp that symbolism helps us understand difficult concepts and we hold on to relics in hopes they guide us through hard times.
I want to speak to something else though. As humans evolved through millennia we gained the capability to understand and feel our imminent death. The thought of a limited lifespan scares most of us. We want to create something, leave something behind so we can be remembered for years past our deaths. Moreover, we want to live forever. Death scares us.
Religion says we are more important than other life on this earth; it feeds into the human ego.
Religion feeds into this. Religion promises eternal life in one form or the other, it may be reincarnation, heaven, a different spiritual form. Religion says we are more important than other life on this earth; it feeds into the human ego.
When I was seven, or eight, or nine, I studied a prophetic timeline endlessly, rolling it out on the green wooden toy chest in our living room in Birdaard, The Netherlands. I looked at the past, but also at the future. I was delighted I would be part of the rapture—I had to be, I prayed daily to be saved—so I didn’t have to experience the great tribulation that would hit the earth as God would distance himself further from his creation.
My mother would explain how good it all would be afterwards. A new earth—the old one would’ve been destroyed in wars and by Jesus himself—all animals and people would get along and we wouldn’t miss loved ones. Yes, I did have questions then, many of them: “What about the kids who didn’t believe? What about the people in this and that country whose faith was in other Gods?”
for my life to matter, I needed to live right now, here in this moment on earth.
For me, one of the most difficult things of leaving religion behind was to come to terms with the notion that there just might not be anything beyond death. That dead is just dead, as we see all around us in the natural world. Dust to dust. This explains why I explored paths around spirituality and reincarnation; all fascinating views. I wanted to believe there was more. I wanted to matter. I wanted my life to matter. But for my life to matter, I needed to live right now, here in this moment on earth. I needed to stop focusing on something I had no control over; something that may or not may be, a spiritual life beyond death.
We want to see our loved ones again. That is a reason to believe there is a life beyond this one. I feel compassion around this. But maybe, this is just it. Which is why we really have to make the most out of this life and love the crap out of the ones surrounding us.
A couple of weeks ago, I stood before the Pacific Ocean at the southwest corner of Washington state. “How great Thou art,” was the line I was singing to myself as I felt pure awe for the power I was facing. If I have religion, it is this: The ocean, the birds, the nature surrounding me.
In "Deconstructing My Religion" CBS tells the stories of Ex-Evangelicals: a diverse group of people who left the Evangelical faith of their youth.
Before I watched the special, I had read about it. Mostly positive feedback; people in my community of ex-fundamentalist Christians are happy to see more recognition about the issues we are experiencing in and out of the church when leaving.
I’d read one negative article written by Julia Duin. She called the CBS special a “tiresome diatribe on sex and evangelicals.” Her main criticism of the show was that the special appeared to be one-sided: only people who’d left the evangelical background were interviewed. I thought she had a point and decided to watch the show with an open mind. After all, I believe in fair and objective journalism.
Watching the special it occurred to me that this show was purely about people leaving the Evangelical church, the why of it and the trauma involved. This didn’t require the views of people still in the Evangelical church, as it wasn’t about the people who stayed. The topic was about deconstruction of religion.
Julia Duin comes across as defensive of Evangelicals. She says she didn’t encounter the purity culture (a movement to pledge in sustaining from sex until marriage) in the ’90s even though she covered religion. That makes one wonder. I lived in The Netherlands, even though purity rings were not a thing in my religious community, the purity mentality was preached in evangelical circles across the nation. Ten years ago, my daughter’s friend in Texas was given a purity ring by her brother.
Duin speaks of the movie “A Thief in the Night,” the ’72 movie about the Rapture that terrified young children. She finds it hard to believe that this movie is still being shown in churches today. Well, you better believe it. If it’s not this movie, there are a whole series of new "Left Behind" movies to show to youth groups.
Duin expresses her judgment when she says of Linda Kay Klein, writer of the memoir ‘Pure’: “More than one-third of the show was her complaining about how her rigid upbringing constrained her ability to sleep around later in life.”
Well, I saw the show, and I can tell everyone that Klein was not speaking of “sleeping around,” but even if she did, that would be her prerogative and it sounds like Duin missed the message here.
Duin has a case of plain envy, which she freely admits to: “Of course I am very envious of how Klein got a free 26-minute book trailer on prime time. Guess it’s who you know (and who you want to attack).”
“As I watched, I kept on wondering: What is the purpose of this show?” Duin asks.
Well, since you’re asking…
Chris Stroop, creator of the Twitter hashtag #EmptyThePews said it well: “Making it easier for others to leave and find community.”
Broadcasts such as these bring to the forefront issues that are still very much present in fundamentalist Christian and Evangelical religious communities. People who leave, do so with difficulty and pain. They pick up their lives, find new communities, but still carry the weight of traumatic messages.
As Julie Ingersoll, PhD. says in the special: “Voices critical of the movement deserve to be heard.”
Stroop, Ingersoll and Blake Chastain, host of the Exvangelical podcast, agree that people who left can be seen as stakeholders as they know the Evangelical movement from the inside out.
Ingersoll points out that we are in a critical point in our nation. Ex-Evangelicals are calling our attention to authoritarian threats and outdated concepts that are problematic to democracy.
What hurts me about Duin’s article is her lack of recognizing the trauma people have experienced in churches and the long-lasting effects thereof.
Linda Kay Klein speaks of PTSD symptoms when she talks about shame and the recovery from purity culture. Duin hears “sleeping around.”
Stroop and Chastain speak of watching Rapture movies. They recall stories of kids coming home from school thinking they were “left behind” when their parents weren’t there.
Duin dismisses this “I find it hard to believe churches were still showing that film two decades later, much less that there were huge swaths of evangelical youth who were harmed by it.”
I get it, Julia Duin, you choose not to see the weekly or daily indoctrination that youth across the nation and world are subjected to. You choose to dismiss the psychological effects this has on developing brains. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In Fact, a new documentary is in the make. Former Evangelical Pastor Andy Herndon is telling the story of the Exvangelical community in “The eXvangelicals.”
More and more of our stories are coming out. They are stories of how we overcame feelings of shame and guilt. They are stories of how we are finding new communities and are redefining ourselves. They are stories of abuse, trauma and anxiety. They are stories of rejection, of loosing faith and finding faith.
There was a time in my life in which I thought I was alone. I thought no-one could possibly understand my fears. I hardly understood them myself. In the last couple of years, I have come to know a community of people who came from different religious backgrounds. As I opened up to them I noticed the similar fears and traumas we had in common. I can’t express how valuable it’s been to me to have gained an understanding of myself through the greater Exvangelical community.
Pietje - say Peach-a!