The Beautiful Girlhood Doll, part 8: Out of the Dollhouse

And then, after all of this, I left for college. College had always been on of my parents’ expectation for me, and I’d never seen them as proud as they were at my homeschool graduation. With my parents’ approval, I chose a secular college because I wanted to witness to others and make a difference in the world. I had been taught that I was to be a culture changer, shouldn’t I start now? My parents approved of this choice because they believed I was finally ready, after eighteen years of being trained up in their beliefs and worldview.

Of course, I believed my role was to be a wife and mother, but no one had appeared to seek my hand and my parents, both college educated themselves, had never shaken the idea that a college degree is important. I would graduate from college, they said, and then work until someone came to my father asking for my hand, and then marry and settle down as a homemaker, wife, and mother. My plan was to find an upstanding Christian man in college and graduate with a ring on my finger. After all, I didn’t want to delay having children any more than I had to, because I knew I wanted a very large family. Until then, though, I would use my college years to witness to others and further God’s kingdom.

I found out almost immediately upon arriving at college that I did not fit in very well. I thought this was just because I had been homeschooled, but it was more than that. I wore only homemade clothing, had hair all down my back, and didn’t use makeup. I definitely stuck out! In addition to looking out of place, I had no idea how to relate to anyone I met, because none of them shared my exact beliefs or had an upbringing anything similar to mine. I was the very definition of a fish out of water.

Gradually, I began to make friends with evangelical girls I met in my dorm. The god-talk was familiar to me, but their upbringings were still largely foreign. None of my new friends had more than a couple siblings, and none of them believed in female submission the way I did. They were in college so that they could have careers; they didn’t plan to be homemakers. They were astonished when they learned that I believed I would be under my younger brother’s authority if my father died, and they found my clothing and mannerisms strange and funny. Yet they accepted me as I was, and for that I will always be grateful. Without them, my transition to college would have been a great deal more painful than it was.

College quickly taught me first that those who did not believe like I did were neither automatically miserable inside nor bad people. In fact, I found that even Catholics, gays, and agnostics could be lovely people. This confused me but it also opened my world and showed me that dividing humanity into “good” and “evil” was too simplistic.

I realized, though, that I could not witness to others very well when I stuck out like a sore thumb. I therefore bought myself a new wardrobe, cut my hair, and learned to wear makeup. My new clothes were still conservative, but at least they were not floor length homemade dresses. My new look worked, and I began to have theological and political conversations with a number of non-Christians. I worked hard to show them the perfection of the Bible, the evidence of young earth creationism, the evils of abortion, and the love of God.

Strangely, I found a surprising number of my arguments rebutted by arguments I had never heard before. I was told that there were serious problems with creationism, ethical issues with the Bible, and more affective ways to decrease abortion than banning it. I turned to my resources, my books and websites on creationism, theology, and conservative politics, and I tried again. And again. And again. But some things just didn’t add up. I paused my arguments to do some serious research, and I was astounded by what I found.

First, an honest look at the scientific evidence reveals that young earth creationism, flood geology and all, simply could not have happened. For example, some of the rock layers I had been taught were laid down in a global flood were actually laid down in desert conditions, and in some places there are animal burrows through numerous layers. Similarly, the pollen for any given plant is only found in the layer in which that plant exists, which would makeno sense if the rock layers were laid down by a huge flood. Furthermore, while I had been taught that there were no transitional fossils, I found that this wascompletely untrue. I was flabbergasted.

Second, as I read and researched the Bible in order to rebut the arguments I was hearing, things stuck out to me that I had glossed over before, such as God’s command that the Israelites commit genocide on neighboring tribes or the Bible’s endorsement of slavery. I also began to notice errors in the Bible, such as the statement that there were 600,000 adult male Israelites among those who left Egypt, at a time when archaeological evidence shows that there were only 50,000 people living in all of Canaan. Similarly, there was no empire-wide census in the days of Caesar Augustus. I also found contradictions between the Gospels. Did Jesus ride one donkey on Palm Sunday, or two? Was he crucified at nine o’clock, or at noon? Were Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem or Nazareth? It depends on which gospel you read. I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Finally, I found that banning abortion did not make it any less rare, but simply led to illegal abortions harmful to women. In fact, I learned that abortion is actually most rare where it is most legal – in Western Europe. Thekey todecreasing abortion, I found, was not picketing abortion clinics or banning it in the legislatures. It was widespread birth control. I was completely confused.

And suddenly, I realized something. I had been taught to be a critical thinker, but I had never questioned the beliefs my parents taught me. And I realized that if young earth creationism, the infallibility of the Bible, and the importance of banning abortion, things which my parents believed in so very strongly, were wrong, than everything else they had taught me was also suspect. I also realized that I could not view the Bible as I had before, as literal truth, but must instead see it as somehow figurative, spiritual, and metaphorical.

Yet I had a more immediate problem, and that problem centered in large part on my belief in my father’s authority over me. What was I to do now that I disagreed with my father and saw him as fallible? I thought of the things my evangelical friends had said about Jesus teaching radical female equality for his time, and delved into research on this issue. I soon found that Jesus urges people to leave their parents and follow him, and that Jesus says that his followers should not marry. Similarly, Paul says that Christians shouldn’t marry unless they have to because of lust. The emphasis on forming patriarchal families simply is not there. Furthermore, Jesus urges mutual serving, not submission for some and authority for others. None of this sounded like the Christian Patriarchy I had been taught. The only question, then, was what to do now.

For the next installment of this series, click here.

Beautiful Girlhood Doll Table of Contents

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07630805993208700804 Sara Amis

    Someone posted a link on my Facebook feed…then I read the interview with Vyckie Garrison…then looked at her site…then came here. This is fascinating and profound reading. I had an upbringing that was similar in some ways and radically different in others. I am the youngest of eight, but my parents had children just because they wanted them. My mother was a schoolteacher. I too learned to sew, embroider, and garden…but also carpentry and beekeeping.I was raised Southern Baptist, but the Fundamentalists took over the SBC the same year I was baptized. The more their attitudes spread to my home church, the more I stayed away. I wound up a Pagan (and I'm happy that way) but I still feel a sense of loss and anger that the church I was raised in became uninhabitable for me. The way I see it, I didn't leave them, they left me. I think it's important to keep in mind that these movements, Dominionism, etc. are relatively *new.* They try hard to align themselves with a concept of America that never really existed the way they think it did, and with ahistorical ideas of all sorts.All of which is to say…good work :)

  • Trish

    Wow, I am appalled. The pendulum has swung in the complete opposite direction. I wish it weren't so late. I wish I had the time to argue many of your points, because many of them ARE shallow and flawed and any non-thinker who reads this will take them as truths and blindly follow. You are Eve and the pied piper in one package. You are sadly leading many astray, very dangerous. You totally threw the baby out with the bath water.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Trish – I could only put so much information in a blog post, so perhaps if you think my arguments are "shallow and flawed" that is why. I could write a whole treatise on these issues, giving a lot more depth, but it would end up quite long! However, "shallow and flawed" is actually how I would describe the arguments fundamentalists use to support their beliefs. These arguments simply don't hold water when you really look at them, and that's what I found when I did so! Additionally, I don't advocate "blindly following" anything. If a "non-thinker" blindly follows what I say without examining it for him or herself, that's truly unfortunate. You see, thinking is exactly what I advocate! I would never want someone to just take my word for it! As to it being too late to change my mind, why would that be the case? I strive to be a critical thinker and follow where the evidence leads. I always evaluate what I believe in light of additional information. I try to never be dogmatic or close-minded. Feel free to contact me if you'd like – my email is listed under the "contact me" tab. Finally, as to "throwing out the baby with the bath water," I looked and looked and didn't FIND a baby in the bath water. If I'd found one I wouldn't have thrown it out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16719976089855203933 Tony

    Like you, I grew up in a fundamentalist group that preached often that those in the world were miserable, unhappy and sinning.Your statement: "In fact, I found that even Catholics, gays, and agnostics could be lovely people.", quite resonated with me. As I grew older and started having friends out side of "the church", I was amazed to realize they were just like me, they pulled their pants on one leg at a time, they worried about their kids, their job, their car, etc just like me, I realized I could not judge them in any way.

  • Anonymous

    Because of course we know that academia would NEVER fudge just a wee little but if it suited their agenda. As I say to my kids when I hear two different stories, somebodies lying. Just because you heard conflicting information at college does not make that information accurate.And Jesus did not tell his followers not to marry. Paul encouraged singleness as you said but Jesus did not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anonymous – Yes, if there are two different stories, only one can be correct. How do you determine which one is correct? You look at the evidence. That is what I did. I never accepted anything I heard in academia simply on the basis of some professor saying it – that would be as silly as accepting something just because my parents said it, or just because the pastor said it (well, nearly as silly – professors are trained in the subjects they teach on, and are therefore more qualified to speak on their subject than the average layman or parent). As I said, I was taught to question and double check everything, and that's what I did. On Jesus telling his followers not to marry, read Matthew 19:12 – "For some are eunuchs because they are born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

  • Anonymous

    I'd have to say those quotes of Jesus do not equate him telling all his followers not to marry. He was simply stating the reality that there are SOME people who for various reasons will not marry and that this is okay and as it should be. Which is actually rather refreshing considering how obsessed with marriage a lot of churches are. Although I think that this is less the case than it used to be. Nowhere does he say that marriage is bad or undesirable, however.

  • Rivalyn

    I know this post is 2 years old, but heck, I’ll ask my question anyway.

    I was wondering whether the college students you knew listened to your attempts to convert them respectfully, or if they treated you with disdain. I’m ashamed to say that when I was college-aged, I would have openly mocked any young earth creationist who evangelized in my vicinity, and most of my friends would have followed suit.

    I’m asking because I think that educated people tend to respond to religious arguments with smug condescension, and age has taught me that’s a terrible way to persuade people. In fact, people often respond to mockery by becoming more entrenched in their belief system.

    If you were ridiculed, as I suspect you were, then I really admire you for your willingness to consider the arguments behind the rudeness. If you weren’t, then I also admire them, for being far more respectful than I would have been.

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