Who are you trying to follow?

I was taught by my parents that my goal in life should be to follow God. Except that I now realize that in practice what my parents really meant was that I should follow them.

My parents were convinced that they had it all right. They had a direct line to God, and they had gotten the message from him loud and clear. God said not to date. God said not to use words like “dang” or “heck.” God said women’s place is in the home. God said women must always be under male authority. God said we had to read the Bible every day. God said we had to go to church and Bible club but not to youth group. God said that his followers must all homeschool. But actually, it was my parents who were telling me all of those things, not God.

Because my parents believed that God was consistent, they were sure that anyone who was listening to him would hear these same things. And so, even as they told us to follow God, in practice that meant following them. Any time any of us children thought we heard something different, we were told that we were not listening to God. If we were listening to God, we would do and say exactly what my parents did and said.

My parents put their children in a box. “Do and believe as we do and believe,” they said, “And you are following God. Disagree with us and you are not following God.”

When I realized in college that my parents were wrong about Young Earth Creationism, that there was actually overwhelming evidence in favor of evolution and an enormous amount of evidence directly contradicting Young Earth Creationism, I had a watershed moment. I suddenly realized that my parents were not infallible. I realized that they could be completely sure that something was true, and convinced that they had it directly from God, and be wrong. I realized suddenly that I could not simply assume that what they told me about God and his will was correct.

That day, I set out to find God for myself. The result was a years long journey that took me through a variety of faith traditions and in the end led me out of religion altogether. I have seen many others go through this journey: while some end up leaving religion like me, most remain within Christianity. One good friend of mine today calls herself an evangelical, says that her relationship with God is personal, and holds a very “live and let live” attitude towards those around her. The end of the journey isn’t the important part. It’s the journey itself that is important.

What is this journey I speak of? It’s about making your beliefs yours rather than simply believing what your parents say. It’s about deciding what is worth keeping and what is not. It’s about listening to God for yourself, exploring your faith for yourself, learning and studying and reading and questioning for yourself, rather than simply accepting and parroting what your parents tell you. It’s about self discovery and self realization. It’s about becoming an independent adult and differentiating from your family.

This journey starts the moment a young adult realizes that her parents are not infallible, the moment a young adult realizes that she can’t simply accept everything her parents have told her about God without thinking it through. This journey begins the moment a young adult realizes that her parents might be wrong about something, the moment a young adult realizes that she needs to formulate her own beliefs and values rather than simply holding the beliefs and values dictated to her by her parents. This starts the moment a young adult turns off the autopilot.

For me, the journey began the moment I realized that what my parents taught me about who God was and what he wanted could be wrong, and that I needed to find God for myself. For Darcy, the journey began “the day I finally gave up trying to please anyone but God.” Many Americans would simply call this part of growing up. Many would call it part of becoming spiritually mature. But where I come from, it’s called rebellion.

Too many parents tell their children that all they want is for them to love and follow God, and then turn around and expect their children in practice to follow them. It doesn’t work that way. You can either follow God and place him first, or you can follow your parents and place them first. You really and truly can’t do both. But somehow, parents like mine can’t see that.

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.

  • Nathaniel

    Whenever someone says they believe in the infallibility of the bible, they mean that they believe in the infallibility of themselves.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Hmmm, in theological circles, the infallibility of the Bible is a liberal position, way too loosey-goosey for fundamentalists. They believe the Bible is inerrant.Though they seem to be synonyms, they are not. The inerrantist believes every word is perfect for all areas of life: doctrine , science, history, you name it. The infallible position is that for what it is ( a record left by people who had experience with God and about relationship with God), the Bible is a trustworthy source. Very different ideas.Though when someone says they believe in the inerrancy of the bible, they do mean the inerrancy of their interpretation of the bible. On that, I agree 100%.=)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12018731012247569416 MrRoivas

    Thanks for the clarification. Seems a distinction without a difference to me, but then again I am a godless heathen Jew, so what do I know?

  • http://tenetsofbiblicalpatriarchy.blogspot.com/ MM Johann

    Mr Roivas, the difference is that an inerrantist believe the Bible has to be right about science and history.A believer infallibility don't believe the Bible has to be right about science and history.In other words:The inerrantist say: The Bible is right in all it touches.The infallibility supporter say: The Bible is right in all it teaches (about morality, serving God, etc.)Can you now see a difference?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11116252614235163923 Cherí

    "The end of the journey isn't the important part. It's the journey itself that is important." So so so true Libby! Learning to enjoy the journey instead of feeling threatened by the uncertainty of it is part of what makes life so incredible. :)

  • Carolyn

    I never understood why anyone would want to make their child an ideological clone of them. I mean, I'm not an ideological clone of myself 15 years ago. My grandmother changed her party affiliation this past election (we're Canadian, so it was recently) at 94 years old, and tried to swing her family. It's what I love about teenagers – they make me think sometimes, when they ask deceptively simple questions. And if you make a teenager look at one of their opinions more deeply, they come up with the most interesting things.And hi, I just discovered your blog and have been reading back a bit. I'm interested in religion, but I'm an atheist and never was in a deeply religious family. We're all fascinated by the unfamiliar, aren't we?

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/5b20d3b0-9d71-11e0-a6d0-000bcdcb8a73 Fina

    The distinction between inerrancy and infallibility is quite important, since the latter can not be tested against evidence: Morality is entirely subjective* and any notion of god is not scientifically testable.Basically it allows you to claim that the bible is an absolute guideline without subjecting it to any scrutiny.*Which doesn't mean that it is "whatever an individual person wants it to be". Morality is still a set of guidelines agreed upon by society, based on a variety of factors such as biology (some things, such as the nurturing instinct we have for babies, are very strongly hardwired), tradition, convenience and generally a strive for improvement of the society. What it DOES mean is that there is no objective evidence which we can use to determine whether a moral principle is right or wrong, since those terms are entirely dependent upon or perception.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12284971176688746388 Andrew G.

    Personally I think both "any notion of god is not scientifically testable" and "there is no objective evidence whether a moral principle is right or wrong" are cop-outs. (Possibly due to unreasonably narrow ideas about what constitutes "science" – psychology and anthropology potentially have as much or more to say in refutation of theism than, say, physics does; or likewise narrow definitions of "testable" – there are methods other than, say, lab experiments.)

  • http://lotuslandfineart.com/velvetrope/ wlotus

    I remember when I ended my first counseling relationship; she was a pastoral counselor and evangelical Christian I had sought out because at the time I began therapy with her I identified as an evangelical Christian. By the end of our professional relationship I was, in her words "moving away from fundamentalism", to my joy and her dismay. I told her that rather than feeling sad for me, wouldn't it make more sense to look at her counseling as a success, because she had taught me to think for myself, something she had always encouraged me to do up until that point? (I had not been raised to do so.) She agreed, even though she did not agree with the direction my thinking for myself was taking me. I will always respect her for that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15508887711850480059 M.E.

    I can fully identify with the 2nd to last paragraph. "where I grew up, it was called rebellion." Yes – that says it all. The rest of the world considers this "rebellion" as maturity. As a prior fundie, I wondered why outsiders considered us childlike. After leaving, I now understand.

  • Duggarwatcher

    funny the duggars always say long skirts are pleasing to the lord
    my mom used to think they said long skirts are pleasing to daddy, and that it sounded creepy
    i guess he is the head of the household, and in the quiver-full movement, your husband father is the representative of god on earth, so its the same thing for the poor women, right? -JP

    I say unto thee, What is pleasing to daddy is pleasing unto Me, yea, even pleasing to the LORD -. -Jesus as quoted in the Gospel of Duggar


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