CHURCHIANITY PART VII – an anonymous letter

Published May 23, 2009

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: Greetings all. It’s been about 6 months since my last Churchianity post — my how time does fly — but after receiving a rather potent letter from a reader, I think it’s high time to start up again. If you’re new here, you may wish to read Part 1 (or even Parts 1 – 6) before continuing.
Abandoned Church
I have written at length about the current (and continuing) unhealthy state of the modern-day Christian church. I am a Christian, but one who is both sickened and disheartened by the fact that the words “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” are becoming synonymous with other terms like “fascist” and “crazy.” Over the past few decades, there has been so much emphasis on legalistic rules and hypocritical dogma within the church, that memberships and attendance have dropped like mercury on a cold day. This trend shows no sign of stopping.

I was reminded of this fact when I received the following letter:

Mr. Williamson,

I’ve read all of the Christianity VS Churchianity posts on your site and it is a very odd experience for me to see things I’ve only thought in my head in print. Wow. You do a great job, sir. Here’s a huge coincidence — I’m a recovering extreme Christian fundamentalist too! In fact, my husband and I both grew up in very strict Christian households and churches. His older sister used to beat him and his brothers with metal coathangers if she caught them watching or listening to anything that didn’t glorify God (and that included one of his brother’s original set of Beatles albums, which she tossed in the trash! We should be able to bring criminal charges against people that nutty). I’m not a preacher’s daughter but I am a Southern Baptist preacher’s granddaughter and I grew up with all of the typical rules and regulations, including my pastor’s peculiar pet peeve of not allowing anyone to celebrate holidays because they were considered glorifications of pagan festivals. No Christmas, no Easter. Don’t even talk to me about Halloween or Valentine’s Day. He didn’t even celebrate his own kid’s birthdays.

My husband and I were freaks from the get go because we went to college (“I don’t need no book learnin’ that doesn’t come from The Good Book”) and studied weird topics: History and English Lit for him, Neurology and English Lit for me (“Why does a woman even need to go to college? That might give her ideas above her station. She’s better off only studying how to be a better keeper at home. And why science? Science is just the playground of atheists.” Oh, don’t even get me started on this, I could go on for 200 pages). Of course, the thing about a good college education is that is makes you think, and that’s exactly what we started doing. We noticed that while we were listening to sermon/rants on the correct translation of the Bible (only KJV or you’re going straight and directly to hell), church attendance (be here every time the doors are open or you are going straight and directly to hell), and the evils of alcohol (take one sip and you are going straight and directly to hell!), we started noticing that there was one hell of a lot of hypocrisy going on undeterred and not a lot of useful Scriptural teachings that could help people out of the pits they were sliding into. We started researching, asking questions and, being the young and stupid people that we were at the time, thought we could change the way everyone thought by explaining to them that really, the Gospel was a lot more than determining if the book you’re reading glorifies witchcraft or not. You can imagine how well that went down. (Insert hysterical laughter here.)

By the time we fled that place, we were pariahs — people treated us like we had the plague and large sections of both of our families pulled long faces and talked to us about straying from the path and going out from us because they weren’t of us, etc … etc … The alcohol thing was a particular thorn in the flesh. Neither of us wanted to booze it up (I didn’t have a sip of anything alcoholic in my life until I was 25) but the discrepancy between the Bible’s attitude towards alcohol (my husband likes to say that Jesus’ first miracle was a beer run; we joke all the time about what type of wine Jesus turned the water into — I’m thinking it was a nice Merlot) and what we were taught about devil liquor really irritated us. And, of course, the more we tried to get people to see that the two didn’t jive and that it was just symbolic of all the other stuff being shoved down our throats, the more they assumed we just wanted to be lushes and were in the clutches of Satan. Whatever.

We left about five years ago, and finding another church has been damn near impossible. Our training makes it tough to go somewhere with electric guitars and drumsets and pastors in cut off jeans, even though we KNOW that that isn’t the criteria (“Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”), yet everywhere else is just various rehashes of what we broke away from. The kicker is that we have four children that I homeschool. Not only does everyone look at us and instantly assume that we must be Christian cultists (the idea that I might want to teach them how to think instead of having them turned into sheep by the public school system never seems to occur to anyone), but practically every homeschool group I join is, you guessed it, seriously fundamentalist. I had to leave one that didn’t believe in higher education for girls. Seriously. I’ve got three daughters — do they honestly think I’m going to turn my girls loose on the world as dumb as door knobs? And that God would approve of that?

My children know the Bible and they love the Lord, but I’ll tell you, sometimes I look at them while we’re cranking the ungodly Beatles or when we’re reading Harry Potter (gasp!) and I think, “You poor things, you have no idea what the hell is waiting for you when you get older.” All I can hope is that there are more of us out there somewhere. I’ve no idea where, but maybe we’ll find them someday.

By the way, have you ever read anything by Garrison Keillor or listened to his radio show, The Prairie Home Companion? (It’s on Sundays on NPR.) He was raised a Lutheran and talks about the trials of being an Apostate so beautifully. In his first book, Lake Wobegon Days, he writes an extended footnote — 95 Theses 95 — in which he lists 95 things he was trained into by his religious parents that he believes has ruined his life. It is absolutely hilarious. Number 4 on the list is: “You have taught me to worship a god who is like you, who shares your thinking exactly, who is going to slap me one if I don’t straighten out fast. I am very uneasy every Sunday, which is cloudy and deathly still and filled with silent accusing whispers.” Number 31 is “Your theology wasn’t happy about the idea of mercy and forgiveness, which only gave comfort to enemies, and so, although you recited the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, you remembered your debtors and managed to not speak to certain people! — a major feat when you live in a town so small and attend the same church as they, a true act of dedication. In your behalf, I still dislike the Bunsens. I have no idea why.”

Later in the book, he describes the main character quizzing his mother on why it is wrong to listen to pop music. “Because it isn’t sung by a Christian,” she replies. After which he asks her if its okay to listen to Mozart or Beethoven. Oh, those little grey cells, they can get you into a lot of trouble.

By the way, I was reading Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi last night and ran across this passage that I thought you’d appreciate:

“There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, ‘Business as usual.’ But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening. … These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”

I grew up around people who preached and argued and pontificated nonstop about picky points of religion while at the same time conveniently ignoring the abused and hurting people in their own congregations. My husband calls it the “be ye warmed and filled” syndrome.

Anyway, thanks so much.

Al Nonymous

Thank you, Al — for reminding me that I’m not the crazy heretic my own family has labeled me. Your well-stated thoughts have inspired me to get start up these posts again. Yes, the subject is controversial, and I do struggle to speak the truth in love while doing so, but this is too important to not continue. These articles have always been my humble attempt to be an advocate for those walking wounded whom the church have shunned and driven away (as well as a wake up call for those who do the shunning and the driving).

While some would probably argue that the examples you listed are extreme, even subtle versions of such have so seeped into the fabric of the church, that many no longer know the difference. And to that I say: God help us all.

More to come soon.