I’m part of a growing movement of men and women who’ve left Christian fundamentalism. Yes, it’s possible to leave Crazy Town, and we are absolutely enjoying all that life has to offer outside of a movement that controlled our lives, but most importantly controlled our minds.
Lately I’ve been writing about the abuse that I experienced in my fundamentalist group, which is a group my therapist labeled a “cult” (The politically correct and academic term is “new religious group,” although I feel that term does more to protect the abusive and destructive groups from the government than it does to protect victims. More on that later.) Along with leaving a cult, or destructive group, comes many challenges: immersion into “normal” society, behaviors and media; ostracism from old friends and the loneliness that comes from that process; and a struggle to maintain faith in God that often comes from duty, obligation and fear. For those who depart from their faith in God, like me and many of us (perhaps because our spiritual abusers convinced us that they were God; perhaps because we’ve seen the inside of a dark temple), the road to labeling yourself atheist or agnostic is riddled with fear of judgement, secrecy and finally gaining your own footing with your new set of beliefs.
To me, it’s less important whether I’m labeled an atheist or agnostic or spiritual because none of those labels accurately describe me. What is important to me is that I’m not labeled a Christian, and there’s a clear distinction between my ethics and beliefs and those of modern day fundamentalism. Because I don’t endorse gay bashing, homophobia, removing women’s rights/voices or controlling women’s bodies, I’ve become sort of staunchly liberal. I’m that annoying political friend on Facebook who’s always sharing her liberal news articles with you. The one I’d be tempted to delete, if she were Conservative. There you have it–I’m a hypocrite but a happy one.
All joking aside, upon recent examination of the rhetoric and ideologies of the GOP candidates, I realized that they have been spouting some of the same ideology as my old abusive spiritual leaders. The other day, as I was watching Newt Gingrich accept his win in South Carolina he began bashing a judge for making a secular decision, calling him an “anti-religious bigot.” Many of the candidates beliefs stem from a faith in God that’s more similar to fundamentalism than to anything else. For example, Rick Santorum, who’s been known to say some off-the-wall things lately, recently said:
America is a moral enterprise, not an economic enterprise…The United States is successful not because of its powerful military, its economic system or its form of government, it is successful because of the American people’s faith in God.
What is scary about Santorum–and let’s face it, what’s not scary about Santorum?–is that he assumes that everyone holds the same fundamentalist faith in God that he does. There is no freedom for diversity of thinking, nor individual freedom, which the Right often embraces. The fundamentalism we see today in candidates like Santorum is based on largely modern-day teachings and adaptations of puritanical beliefs. Take that combination, the lack of historical and cultural study that many fundamentalist preachers neglect and mix it with a book that still contains stories that endorse murder, incest, slavery, war and oppression of women and gays and you have a violent, toxic combination.
Such a dichotomy has occurred within our society, however, when liberal Christians like Anne Rice (whose Facebook page I highly recommend) and others, have embraced a more liberal philosophy toward gays, science, and women’s rights and maintained their belief in God. This group remains devoted to their religious beliefs but often times critical of their churches, spiritual leaders and even the violent teachings in the Bible, offering a rigorous, deep examination of traditions they feel are outdated and unethical. This side of Christianity is not only refreshing; it’s incredibly important to recognize that it exists.
For many former fundamentalists, like myself, having candidates like Santorum in the Presidential race is terrifying. As I recently wrote, these are the politicians who are most likely to partner up with the United States Conference of Catholic bishops in order to take way women’s reproductive rights. Why are these men trying to control women’s bodies, and challenge our ability to make decisions on our own? Because they believe that if God is male, then male is God (see Mary Daly’s book Beyond God the Father for more on this philosophy). The men who lobby against women’s rights, partnered with candidates like Santorum who literally believe that “America is a moral enterprise” (in effect, America is a fundamentalist Christian moral enterprise) will do anything within their power to ensure that their personal religious beliefs make their way into the legislation that effects everyone, regardless of their beliefs. Why would I, or anyone else, want a candidate in office that reflects and embodies the abusive, patriarchal beliefs that my former spiritual leader used to control my mind and body? I assure you, America doesn’t.