Why I Went to a Secular College

I grew up in family strongly influenced by the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. I was homeschooled in order to be “sheltered” and “taught God’s truth,” and was taught that my role was to be a homemaker and that I was always to remain under male authority (first father, then husband).

Given this, my readers have asked why I was sent to a secular college, or even to college at all. Since I’ve been asked this multiple times, I thought it only fair to write a post on it. So, here goes.

Preparation to be a Wife and Homemaker

My parents highly valued education, and they argued that a college degree could actually prepare me to be a wife and homemaker. Having a college degree would make me a good intellectual helpmeet for my future husband, a helpmeet he could bond with and identify with. Further, a college degree would come in handy if disaster struck my future family.

Further, I didn’t go to college with the expectation of a career, and I didn’t study something I thought would lead to a career. Instead, I studied something I felt would make me a better homeschool mother, and also give me the opportunity to bring in some extra cash through tutoring other homeschool students.

In other words, I and my parents saw my college education as a step on the path to becoming a good wife, mother, and homemaker.

But What of My Father’s Authority?

My parents believed that even at college – even away from home – I could and would remain under my father’s authority. After all, I was heading off to college with my father’s permission, blessing, and sanction. I was also in some sense acting as an extension of my father, serving to represent his beliefs and views even far away from home.

And finally, while I wasn’t expected to call home about every little decision, I was definitely expected to get – and heed – my father’s advice on any larger decisions I encountered while in college (buying a car, traveling abroad, beginning a relationship, etc.).

Why Not a Christian College?

To be honest, I wanted to get out of the hothouse environment and stand on my own two feet. I’d grown up reading stories of resilient and daring missionaries, and I wanted to have to stand up for and defend my beliefs just as they did. I felt I hadn’t had opportunity to really do something for God because I’d never been in the position where I could do something for God.

I was troubled especially by the fact that I had not brought about a single conversion. Sure, I knew that someone planted the seeds, someone watered them, and someone harvested them, so you might never know when you’d played a role in someone’s conversion, but having never really known anyone who wasn’t a Christian I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to do even that. I grew up in a world where winning a convert – saving a soul from hell – was just about the best thing you could possible do. And I desperately desired to do just that.

I saw the secular college I attended as my mission field. I saw myself as God’s warrior, and my fellow students, hedonists and pagans as they were, as my targets. I couldn’t wait to start winning converts, to save souls from hell, to really do something for Jesus after everything I believed he had done for me. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but that was my initial motivation.

How Were My Parents Okay with That?

My parents believed that by homeschooling me they were equipping me to go out into the world and do God’s work. They didn’t see themselves as isolating me or indoctrinating me, but rather as creating a greenhouse environment where I would go strong and be ready to confront the world. And in that line, they had done everything they could to make sure my upbringing was as comprehensive and foolproof as possible, that I would grow strong in their beliefs and be ready and able to defend them.

You have to understand that my parents truly believed, and continue to believe, that their views are 100% absolutely true, and that anyone who honestly looks at the facts will come to the same conclusion as well. They used to talk about how Josh McDowell, the writer of Christian apologetics, set out to prove to his wife that Christianity was false and ended up, because of overwhelming evidence, coming to the conclusion that it was actually all true. Thus my parents weren’t afraid of other viewpoints. They weren’t afraid of my hearing other perspectives. They were that sure that when all the evidence was on the table, their views would rise to the top.

When you combine these two factors – that my parents believed they had given me the tools I needed to persevere, the perfect Christian upbringing, and that they truly believed that not only were their beliefs 100% true but also that their beliefs were supported by any honest and unbiased look at the evidence – you start to see why my parents would see sending me off to a secular college as a good idea rather than a gamble. And of course, knowing that I saw that secular college as a mission field helped as well.


And that, quite simply, is why I went to college, and a secular one at that. What ended up happening is that I was so sure my parents’ beliefs – beliefs I held myself – were true that I wasn’t afraid to hear other viewpoints. I was so sure that the evidence supported my parents beliefs – my beliefs – that I wasn’t afraid to hear other evidence. I listened honestly as well as explaining and working to defend my beliefs, and I came to different conclusions from my parents. And of course, the result was a mess.

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On Coming When You’re Called and Fear-Based Obedience
Why Does Lily Work Two Jobs while Carl is Unemployed?
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://stuffimintorightnow.blogspot.com Bradley C.

    I am curious as to whether your parents have changed their mind about the education thing after your deconversion. Do you know if your younger siblings (particularly your sisters) are being encouraged to go to college as well or if they have to go to a Christian school?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      My parents told me that they now wish they’d never sent me to a secular college. Because of birth order, the jury is still out on what will happen with my younger sisters (of whom there are many). At this point, I think it likely that they will either go to Christian colleges or (perhaps more likely) live at home while attending college locally. At the same time, college is not being emphasized to them as being quite as important as it was emphasized to me growing up, so it’s possible that some of them might not go to college. Only time will tell.

      • AnotherOne

        What about your brothers?

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        AnotherOne – They have to be able to have careers, to get jobs that make enough money to support a large family on one income. So college is sort of a necessity for them. So far there has been some mixture of Christian college and state university, but the choice has been left completely up to each of them.

  • Rebecca Newman

    The last church my family attended before my mother discovered my stepfather was actually a very wicked man and that our patriarchal lifestyle was actually unhealthy and had provided the very power he abused was actually for us a very liberal church, but my stepfather was convinced that homechurching was the way to go and so we attended. The girls there were permitted to wear pants and the members saw nothing wrong with listening to secular music, and even though homeschooling was universal there, no one else thought birth control wrong as we obviously did with our eight-kid brood.

    And so, while we kids in our family were still not allowed to go to college, all of the boys and several of the girls, depending on the family, in the homeschooling community did go to college, and the monthly teen Bible studies were all about apologetics and maintaining your beliefs in the secular university atmosphere. The teacher, one of the elders, also had the mindset of preparing these kids as missionaries, that we had been taught (indoctrinated) well our whole lives and would now be plenty prepared to take a stand, be a testimony for Christ. (Haha, I even went to a Christian college and didn’t even think I was a Christian by the time I came out!) I’m GLAD it didn’t stop me from thinking things over for myself.

  • Noelle

    I did attend a xian college. It was a good school, in the same town where I went to HS, and they gave me a real nice scholarship. They recruited heavily from the local high schools, so I already knew a bunch of my Freshman class when I started there. I loved my time there. It’s science programs are rated highly nationwide. I refused to live at home and commute. My dad was most bothered by this. Not because he thought he owned me, but because he’s cheap and thought it was a waste of money to live on campus. I threated to not apply there if that was his attitude.

    I was not an atheist at the time, but many of my classmate friends were. There were not any rules requiring anyone to participate in any religious activities. Even the array of required religion courses offered enough world religion, historical, and philosophical choices that one was not forced to take a Jesus class. We were not one of those crazy-strict conservative places. I still imagine it was a strange place to be an atheist for 4 years, as many of the students and faculty were quite religious. They coulda used a free thinkers/agnostic/atheist club. And since I totally couldn’t get enough of hot atheist guys, I woulda been there.

    Everyone I met there was planning an education for a profession. Some weren’t real sure what they wanted, but they knew it was something. Some of the girls in the teaching or nursing programs spoke of quitting the second they became mothers. I only met one girl who answered the what to you want to be when you grow up with a wife and mom. She was shy and embarrassed when she said it. I didn’t know her well, but I wonder at her background now that I’ve read your story. In any case, it was an expensive institution to attend if one weren’t planning to get a career and make money.

    How do the huge Q/P families even afford sending the daughters to college when they don’t expect them to ever make enough to pay off the loans?

  • smrnda

    I find it interested that so many quiverfull and fundamentalist families place such a huge value on going out and winning converts, but the lives they lead are so insular that it’s unlikely that anybody who is part of that culture would actually have much contact with people who don’t believe the same way. It also doesn’t seem like there is a very realistic picture of what people outside of the subculture are actually like.

    Do people in this movement simply find the

    • smrnda

      (oops pressed post too soon) do people in this movement just find the point of view persuasive since they don’t really interact with people who think otherwise?

  • Karen

    I’m an only (adopted at birth) child; my parents couldn’t have children of their own. My Catholic mother, who was intent on raising me as a submissive member of the patriarchy (despite no buy-in from my father) tried her best to get me to attend a trade school instead of going to college. Cutting hair for a living was a very feminine thing to do, she thought, and one could drop it easily and become a stay-at-home mom when I started producing the four or five grandchildren she wanted. I wanted to be an engineer, and thankfully my very secular, egalitarian father was behind me all the way. So, against Mom’s wishes, my parents put me through a bachelor’s degree in engineering at a very good state school.

    As far as Mom was concerned, it was a total disaster. I did pretty well in school, and got that engineering degree; that meant I’d move to where the jobs were, and never live again in the rural town my parents lived in. She’d never be able to just “drop in” on me. Furthermore, I met and married another engineer, and we put off the issue of having children. Mom saw me pregnant at 21; I didn’t see me pregnant until 30 at least. I was slipping her schedule by at least a decade. I was a failure.

    I continued to be a failure. Unbeknownst to her, I suffered from depression; it took a lot out of my life until I started to be treated at age 35, after a series of nervous breakdowns. Husband and I both realized that we weren’t parent material — my mental stability was fragile at best — and chose not to have children. My mother cycled through bouts of sadness, anxiety, and downright fury that I would deprive her of grandchildren. She couldn’t get it through her head that I might actually be sick. After all, depression is all in your head. Get over it.

    My mother loved me, and she was proud of my accomplishments. But she still saw me as fundamentally being a failure for not giving her the grandchildren that were her due. If my father felt the same way, he concealed it very, very carefully. Needless to say, I was always, as an adult, closer to my dad than my mom.

  • ScottInOH

    Your point about the mission field is an interesting one, Libby Anne. I hadn’t thought about it before, but it makes great sense. Evangelism is the greatest heroism in some versions of Christianity–I definitely read some of those stories myself and was moved by them. Wanting to go into the world and make a difference for Jesus is a very understandable motivation.

    Josh McDowell and similar apologetics writers are another interesting phenomenon. There are some people who look closely and come to believe (McDowell, St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis) and many who look closely and come to disbelieve. Believers, of course, assume the latter just didn’t look closely enough!

  • Stephanie

    I’m curious what your parents’ explanation was for your deconversion. Did they retroactively decide that you wren’t quite as strong and prepared as they’d thought? Did they think that the secular college had brainwashed you somehow? Obviously, in their eyes, you couldn’t have been logically convinced.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Yes and yes. Basically the conclusion was that I was “led astray” by peers and professors and not as prepared as they had thought. And yes, they don’t think actual thinking or logic is behind any of my changes. They’ve said for instance that in my heart I “know the truth” but that I am giving lip service to other beliefs so that I can “follow my passions and worldly lusts.” Or something like that.

      • smrnda

        Wow, that sounds like complete circular reasoning there; even if you change your mind and produce lots of reasons for doing so (and document them pretty well on your blog) the *real issue* is always that you just don’t want to live with the rules you know deep inside are correct.

        I’ve read that same line of reasoning from lots of Christian apologists; people don’t convert because they want to do whatever they feel like. I think the problem there is that it pretends that nobody actually tries to decide what is right or wrong to do because of reasons, and that non-religious people don’t have moral standards – they just tend to be different from religious people in areas (like human sexuality) where you can’t really make a pragmatic case against doing lots of things. I’d say its sensible to reject a worldview that comes with rules that can’t be justified.

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