Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed In Equality Between The Sexes

Growing up as an Evangelical Christian on Long Island I essentially already believed in the equality of the sexes. At least when it came to sex itself.

Now, I would listen to arguments that my powerfully influential youth minister role models would make to me about the different roles men and women were to serve in marriage. I remember one newlywed minister telling me that after he’d preach or lead a Bible Study he was quite likely to get some from his wife. Because, you know, apparently seeing a man in charge like that made her totally horny. And there’s probably some truth to that insofar as many of us are turned on by people at their strongest. I just hope this guy would get turned on seeing his wife be all badass and in charge and admire her for her strength too, rather than be threatened by it. If I could go back in time (or track him down), I’d love to ask him about that.

But aside from some soft sexist talk of “roles” that I let flit around in my head as possibly valid, I was naturally inclined to see the churches that had women ministers as on the side of the angels.

And my egalitarianism was most decisive and morally clearest when it came to my view of marriage. I had an overblown idealized sense of what marriage was or could be in terms of the complete melding of two people perfectly compatible and in agreement in every possible way. I also would put girls on pedestals and prematurely fall in love with them on that account in really unhealthy ways that were counterproductive to developing organic relationships with them. But for all this, my overly romantic conception of relationships was an egalitarian one. I never had hopes of “ruling over a woman the way Christ rules over the Church” or any other such chauvinistic attitudes. I never accepted Paul’s attitude that “women should be silent because Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden”. I never thought of marriage in traditionalistic patriarchal terms.

I distrusted feminists, of course. I mean, by the time I was fourteen I was being told by Rush Limbaugh they were akin to Nazis. And I was against abortion in keeping with my evangelical politics, but not out of any desire to punish “loose women” with “the deserved consequences of sex”. I just believed it was killing babies and wasn’t motivated by any antipathy to women or fear of their sexuality.

My parents were equals. My mom begrudgingly worked from the time I was a small child. She wanted to be a ’50s housewife raising babies but had to do what had to be done to help make ends meet. And when my parents divorced, she raised me as a single mother throughout my high school years. She brought home the bacon and ran the home. The idea that a woman would not have equal say and equal power in running a home or that she could not have equal aspirations to a man was as morally offensive to me then as it is now. I bristled at the workplace indignities my mom would report and I fully was on her side in every assertion of equality.

And, by the way, that conservative Christian, Republican-voting, abstinence-encouraging mother of mine was adamant about getting her granddaughter on birth control soon as she knew she might be sexually active. She didn’t live in the patriarchal fantasyland of Republican Senators where teenagers never have sex and the irresponsible kids are the ones on birth control. (For more on my mom’s general awesomeness, read this.)

But I digress. My egalitarian attitudes extended towards sex completely. I morally expected men and women equally to be virgins at marriage and saw it as not the slightest bit better or worse that a man sleep with anyone besides his wife than that a woman sleep with anyone besides her husband.

Marriage was the spiritual fusion between two people. You couldn’t be fused to more than one person. And also if you gave away this most intimate act to others then there was no way left to uniquely express your marriage bond in a way you hadn’t done with anyone else. “What could make it special? What could make it uniquely intimate and binding?” That’s the way I thought.

And at the college I went to I had countless guy and girl friends who felt the same intense passion for what we took to be purity and who shared (or at least I think they shared) my egalitarian view that it was equally incumbent on unmarried men to be sexually chaste as on unmarried women.

And so it always irritated me when sexual provocateurs like Madonna would claim that my conservative views of sex were rooted in a sexist double standard. They weren’t. When feminists were saying, “you’d praise a sexually promiscuous man as a stud and yet you deride sexually promiscuous women as sluts” I was really upset because, to my mind, the people praising men as studs and calling women sluts with a sexual double standard were not the same people calling for sexual conservatism. Maybe the secular men were hypocrites in this way, but I was applying my sexual moral standards equally. And I never was calling women sluts or shaming them. I thought it was unfair to lump us conservatives in with people with opposite views to our own as one amalgamated critical opponent and then accuse us of hypocrisy. Why not treat our worldview in its own consistency?

In high school, there was a girl who cheated on my friend at a party that we were all at except for him. I told our friend and they broke up. She slept with a lot of guys and was denigrated as a “slut” by a lot of people. She also had some other stuff go down—stuff not her fault but bad—that gave her a bad reputation in general. But I was clean enough of conflating my condemnation of her infidelity with any dehumanizing condemnation of her promiscuity that in my yearbook she wrote that I was one of the only people who treated her like a human being after the other stuff had gone down that had made her a pariah. She expressed a lot of admiration for me and appreciation to me.

To me, being a Christian was about holding myself and others to high moral standards, but not being a judgmental asshole to them. And it certainly wasn’t about using language of spiritual or moral purity as a cover for double standards. It certainly was not about controlling women’s sexuality so that it wasn’t a threat to my own while I (or other men) could be promiscuous with impunity.

I did suffer from a lot of unnecessary, emotionally harmful, overwhelming sexual jealousy that drove a girlfriend away who had kissed “too many” guys before me for me to feel special with my “only the two of us forever is meaningful” assumptions and expectations. I did not have a healthy or balanced view of sex or women.

But the idea of doing what Rush Limbaugh recently did—calling a woman a slut and a prostitute for advocating for women’s birth control access from their employers’ health care plans—would have offended me as much then as it does now. I knew a lot of “godly” married women on birth control. And I would have been deeply disgusted by a 61 year old pig man expressing his lecherous fantasy of forcing women to have sex on camera as a condition of getting their birth control.

That would have been so alien to my values, to my beliefs about the sanctity of sex, to my beliefs about how sexually pure people behave and speak and think, to my beliefs about the moral permissibility of birth control, to my beliefs about loving “sinners”, and to my basic sense of respect for women, that I am just doubly disgusted and disillusioned by my former evangelical community for not being at the forefront of efforts to denounce Limbaugh and disassociate themselves from him. They are proving that the slut-shaming/sexist-double-standard strand of the culture really is of a hypocritical patriarchal piece with the sexually conservative purity strands—despite what some earnest true believing kids like I was might be deceived to think.

Flawed as my values were they were sincere and consistent and fair and principled. The former Christian side of me has only two words for all the right wing evangelical political machinery that either is silent or explicitly backing and making excuses for Limbaugh right now: Whitewashed Tombs.

Your Thoughts?

Speaking of Rush Limbaugh, last night I gave a qualified defense of protests against his sponsors in reply to Bill Maher’s concernsthat they threatened free speech.

Read posts in my ongoing “deconversion series” in order to learn more about my experience as a Christian, how I deconverted, what it was like for me when I deconverted, and where my life and my thoughts went after I deconverted.

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • MGM

    This is almost exactly where I was as a teenage psuedo-fundie. I would read along with James Dobson or whoever, nodding with approval as they railed against [insert current whipping boy here], but then I’d find a passage where he speaks nostalgically for slut-shaming, or promotes men dominating or controlling women, and it really disturbed me. I believed strongly that women and men were equally responsible for being sexually pure (having equal mental faculties and being equally accountable before God), and I assumed everyone else was the same, because the alternative was unreconstructed consciously bigoted behavior, which even at the time I could clearly recognize as immoral. How common do you think former you’s attitude is amongst conservative Christian types, as opposed to the overtly sexist double standard of Dobson’s ilk?

  • smrnda

    I wasn’t raised religious at all, but somehow I got the idea that sex was more special if you saved it for someone you loved, and that it would be best to wait till marriage. I think this might have been because I perceived male sexuality as inherently objectifying, that it was all about men ‘scoring’ with women and then laughing behind their backs or something.

    I think what got rid of that belief was when people I knew started having sex, including lots of casual sex. A lot of young women I knew were doing this and they were enjoying it, so I could not longer maintain that it was men pressuring women into sex. Was this going to compromise their ability to enjoy sex in marriage? Probably not. Was it going to make it less special? I realized that the belief that it’s not ‘special’ if you did it with someone else before is all in your head. I mean, you get people who think you shouldn’t hold hands with someone or kiss until you’re married since those things will be ‘less special’ since you ‘gave them away’ already.

    Perhaps the whole ‘you’re giving this away’ just didn’t really make sense to me. I like to drink coffee, and coffee isn’t any less enjoyable to drink because I drink 10 cups a day. I don’t regret confiding personal things in people whom I don’t really have much contact with today – it isn’t like I would have been better off living in some bubble and then just letting one person in later. The whole ‘purity’ deal demands something unreasonable in terms of expecting people to somehow stay emotionally self-contained and then to just give everything to one person. How can you know if someone is right if you’ve been avoiding any sort of strong emotional connection with anyone?

    One person I know said that if you had sex with too many people, you would ‘compare’ people sexually, and that if you only had sex with your married spouse you wouldn’t do that. My problem with that mentality is that we compare people concerning other areas all the time, and why is sex somehow special? I mean, some people are neater than others, some people can cook better – is a marriage going to fall apart because “wow, you don’t cook as well as that person I was living with during college?”

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    “You couldn’t be fused to more than one person.”
    Tell that to the Human Centipede…

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      HAHHAHAAHAHAHA

  • http://www.twitter.com/jalyth Jalyth

    I was the same way. First my denomination taught nearly-equality from the pulpit, but secondly and more importantly, my family practiced it. In spite of my mother staying home to raise us, gender roles were not heavily enforced. We all had to do the same chores, which I discovered much later is not normal to everyone. And while we vilified sluts (without the bad word though), we also thought boy sluts were as sinful as girl sluts.

  • Decnavda

    This post seems to me to be similar to Libby Anne’s recent post about how she never had “Faith”: She honestly believed the claims of Ken Haim and Answers in Genesis that scientific evidence actually backs up Young Earth Creationism. In both cases, you and her were naive enough to actually believe the bullshit rationalizations the fundies make up to claim that they believe in the scientific method and that they are not trying to oppress women. A lot of people on the outside think these obvious BS rationalizations are intentional lies the fundies tell to outsiders to hide their true intent and confuse the wishy-washy. It is possible there is some of that, but the primary purpose of these BS rationalizations is to reduce the cognitive dissonance of being a fundimental Christian while living in late 20th / early 21st century. These are lies the fundimentalists tell *THEMSELVES*. You are supposed to believe these rationalizations, but not *TOO* strongly, or make them the focus of your belief system. The rationalizations are just supposed to sit there in your mind, ready to jump up and resolve cognitive conflicts when needed, then put back into storage without close examination. When used correctly, these rationalizations do a good job of keeping people in the fold, but if someone believes them too much and thinks about them too much, it can couse an extreme break, causing a person to abandon not just fundimentalism, but Christianity altogether when they discover the rationalization is BS.
    Yes, I was once a naive fundimentalist Christian who believed the BS rationalizations to strongly myself.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    You sound a lot like me, except I caught on earlier. I actually just wrote about this. I also remember hearing people talking about double standards and thinking they were straw-manning my religion and objecting that my denomination ordained women, was founded by a woman and wasn’t sexist. I could only keep that up so long.


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