My God, They Really Are the Same

Hang on, I’m having troubles picking my jaw up off the floor over here. I follow a blog called Sober Second Look, whose author writes about having converted into a conservative Muslim sect in the 1980s, married a Muslim man, and then had a passel of Muslim children before deconverting. And today, she wrote this:

Oddly enough, it never crossed my mind when I (and my convert friends) were having multiple children as our small, insular conservative Muslim and extremely pronatalist community vigorously encouraged us to, that … we’d be dealing with a boatload of teenagers and their typical teenage problems down the line.

Oh, a few people tried to tell us that, of course. That these cute babies would be teenagers soon enough, and night feedings and teething and all that sort of thing would seem like a picnic compared to teenage shenanigans. But we would either look at them blankly, or feel smugly superior to them. Because our kids weren’t ever going to be teenagers.

After all, this is what The Cult taught: Historically, there is no such thing as a “teenager”—there were children, and then there were adults. A child is a child until he/she reaches puberty, and then he/she is biologically an adult. “Teenagers” are a modern invention, caused by a godless, indulgent consumerist society, family breakdown, peer pressure, advertising and a lack of discipline in childhood.

Therefore, parents could avoid having their children turn into teenagers by raising them correctly, by instilling the fear of God in them, by teaching them to take on as many adult ritual and behavioral responsibilities as possible when they were still young, and by carefully sheltering them from the wider society. Because if we sheltered our kids, they would never get the idea that supposedly typical teenage behavior is in any way normal or acceptable, so they would be much less likely to act that way. And if we kept them securely inside our conservative, insular Muslim bubble as much as possible, then community expectations that they act maturely would be constantly reinforced, and it would be that much harder for them to be rebellious “teenagers.”

This was part of The Cult’s appeal to young, idealistic (and insecure) parents such as ourselves. We wanted our kids to grow up right. We were extremely worried about ensuring that they would enter paradise. And we had so much to worry about on that score, because it wasn’t just the usual things that parents of teens are concerned about—rebelliousness, unnecessary risk-taking, drinking, premarital sex, drugs, etc—that might keep them out of paradise. We also had to teach them to believe the right things and to take on adult ritual responsibilities, so that by the time they hit puberty (and would be individually held responsible by God for correct belief, prayer five times each day, fasting the entire month of Ramadan, wearing hijab…) that they would be ready and willing to believe and do what was required of them. With absolutely no teenage obstinacy, pushing the boundaries, sulkiness or insistence on making up their own minds.

Jaw. On. Floor.

This is absolutely word for word identical to what I was told growing up in a Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull evangelical homeschool family. Exactly.

I mean, we’re talking so exact that you could replace a few words – substitute “homeschooling” for “The Cult,” say, and “prayer five times each day, fasting the entire month of Ramadan, and wearing the hijab” with “reading the Bible regularly, praying constantly, and dressing modesty” – and if someone showed it to me I would think I’d read it in No Greater Joy, Above Rubies, a Vision Forum catalog, or any other Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull magazine.

My jaw is still on the floor. It really is all the time. So very many of the ideas we were raised on are common to fundamentalism across religions. And yet, we thought we were so very different. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how word for word exactly the same these ideas are. It’s mindboggling.

Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
Red Town, Blue Town
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
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.

  • Bob Jase

    And that is why the OT advocates stoning your kids to death – it prevents them from becoming teenagers.

  • xcwn

    Yes, well, when I read your blog I am also often amazed at the similarities. What you say about homeschooling is very familiar to me—The Cult promoted homeschooling before it managed to establish its own school, and so I homeschooled for several years. We made the same arguments about in its defence, too. And just today I was over at nolongerquivering and saw a quote from Nancy Campbell about women as anchors in the home that put MY jaw on the floor—that is an expression that one American conservative Muslim preacher in particular uses, and I had long wondered where he had gotten it from. Maybe he reads Above Rubies?? Or both him and Campbell read some other conservative Christian book that uses that expression?

    Oh sigh. We weren’t special. They lied to us. Again. :-(

  • Maddie

    One of the things that really struck me when I moved into an area with a large Muslim population, and was therefore working and socialising with many Muslims, was how similar the attitudes were to the Christianity I grew up in. Even the email forwards were pretty much exactly the same as the kind of things that my mother would consider passing on – if you’d done a search and replace with the Islam-specific terms, it would’ve been perfectly possible to just send it to a bunch of evangelical Christians and have them nod along in agreement. It makes sense, really, but it was really interesting to realise just how similar the groups were in outlook, even if the actual details of the faith were different.

    • Christine

      If you look at the liberal ends of the spectra they’re quite similar as well. (Not nearly as much as the conservative ends are, but fairly close).

  • ladycopper5

    Argh! It really is exactly the same! That’s just bizarre to read… One of the toxic effects I’ve noticed fundamentalism had on me is that everything is always *so.incredibly.important* that you get used to an extra-normal sense of urgency and gravitas and purpose in one’s life. I struggle every day with switching my focus to doing fun things rather than constantly wanting to *do something meaningful and life changing.* It’s kind of like an addiction or something – and even though I left my previous beliefs behind, I fell for a guy who has that same (dysfunctional) sense of searching for the “real meaning” of life and the human condition. I am not terribly surprised that we were drawn to each other, but it is a little unnerving to realize it’s so hard for me to just relax and enjoy life and that I still want to search for The Truth about things and end up falling back into the same trap of “When you really know how things are… ours is a high and lonely destiny… other people don’t see as clearly…”

    I suppose it’s also possible that my family went into fundamentalism because of some sort of brain chemistry issue, and fundamentalism is the effect rather than the original cause, but whichever is true, I want to run from anything that makes people be so overly concerned with things they cannot change and with trying to control what cannot be controlled. Life is uncertain and that’s why we cherish the good parts. What it comes down to for me is I just want to have fun and make life softer and more fun for others at the same time.

    • machintelligence

      I suppose it’s also possible that my family went into fundamentalism because of some sort of brain chemistry issue, and fundamentalism is the effect rather than the original cause,

      There may be more to this than you realize. If you haven’t encountered them before I have some links for you. The first is a TED talk about the values of liberals and conservatives by Johnathan Haidt:
      The other is a free book on the authoritarian personality (you can read it online or download it for free):
      Either or both will give you some valuable insights into how these people think.

      • ladycopper5

        machinetelligence, thanks for the links! I’ve seen the book link before and it was kind of in the back of my mind as I was writing. The TED talk was interesting for sure.

        I know on the Big Five personality tests I always score near 5 on conscientiousness, meaning I really, really want to follow the rules, and it’s been interesting trying to stop my tendency to make up rules for myself and just learn to go with the flow a bit more. So ridiculous…

    • Leigha

      There actually may very well be some credence to that theory. There is actually a facet/type of OCD (depending on the person and whether they have other types of symptoms) related to religiosity. For some, it’s the entirety of their OCD, in which case it gets a fancy name that I can’t remember right now; for most, it’s just one subset. But it involves being intent on doing things exactly right, following the rules to the letter, pleasing God as best as possible, essentially everything required for being a “good” religious observer. It also includes obsessing over how good one is doing, being afraid that one is too sinful or may be guilty of a grievous sin (for example, that you might be gay–another thing that can be a part of OCD, even without the religious elements).

      I’ve heard it suggested that this might even be the reason why OCD exists and is relatively common, that in the past religious beliefs loosely held by the group as a whole were emphasized and monitored by those with OCD, and therefore both the beliefs and the OCD were supported and passed on (one through teaching, the other genetically, of course). I have no idea if this theory is accepted by any major scientists, but it’s interesting to consider.

  • Joy

    Patriarchal fundamentalisms have a lot in common with each other, don’t they? I guess it beats having to make up new lies.

  • Skeptic Shaykh

    It’s crazy, isn’t it? Ever heard the phrase “Christian Taliban”?

  • Steve

    Ultra-Orthodox Jews are also the same. It doesn’t really matter what religion it is. Fundies all think alike on some level.

  • Carys Birch

    Yow, I remember being a teenager. It wasn’t like being an adult at all. And it wasn’t something I did out of my rebelliousness either, it was more like something that ran me over like a mack truck and I was helpless in the face of it.

    My teenage years were awesome.

    Anyway, I’m so glad my family didn’t pick up THAT particular belief!

    • Carys Birch

      Actually maybe they did when I was a bit older? I remember my younger brother, aged about fifteen or so, cowering in terror not wanting to go into the mall (where he was supposed to pick out a suit jacket as a birthday gift) because he was “scared of teenagers.”

      • Holly

        because he was “scared of teenagers.”
        This made me laugh RIGHT out loud! Teenagers (especially when they pack up at the mall) are a scary bunch indeed!

      • Carys Birch

        Well he WAS one! That’s what made me remember it! *chuckle*

      • Twist

        My parents didn’t believe anything like this, and I was scared of teenagers (at least in large groups) as a teenager, though I think that came from me being a nerdy social reject who other kids tended to see as an easy target. When I have to walk past a large group of teenagers on the street these days my heart rate still picks up a bit, as if I’m expecting them to shout mean things at me, even though that never happens anymore!

  • Uly

    Living in NYC, we have a wide range of conservative religious groups. Many times, on first glance, I can only distinguish between Muslims, Jews, and Mennonites (yes, really) based on the specific type of head covering they prefer.

    Ultra orthodox Jewish groups tend to favor large families as well, and isolated schools. I don’t know that homeschooling is as big among them, though – I rarely interrogate strangers on how they educate their kids.

    • Christine

      Actually once they get really conservative the groups split once more. The local Old Order and conservative Mennonites (although conservative often covers anyone who insists on skirts and headcoverings) all wear cape dresses. And the very conservative Muslim women (i.e. almost anyone wearing a niqab) tend to wear the Abayah.

      • Uly

        And I’m told you can distinguish between groups of Orthodox Jews as well, but I’m not in a position to care. I divide them into “dress all their kids alike” and “don’t” and call it a day. Not sure if it’s doctrinal or personal at that point.

  • pagansister

    Must be true—all ultra conservative religions got their information on how to terrorize the followers from the same Divine Being! He/she just wrote it in different books, huh?

  • Christine

    I skipped a lot of ‘being a teenager’ (don’t ask my mom’s take on that though). But I was actually raised very differently than these groups say that kids should be raised (and not just because we never went to church when I was a kid). Frankly I’ve always attributed a large part of me being an adult earlier than my peers to the fact that my parents raised me in such a non-authoritarian manner. (Extra data point for me skipping teenagerhood: for some reason, a bunch of my mom’s friends thought that 23 was too young to get married. None of the ones who knew me thought this.)

    • Rosie

      I was a pretty sheltered kid, and I did most of my “teenagering” in my mid-20′s. Of course, I had a job by then and wasn’t living with my parents or on their dime, so there wasn’t much they could do about my “rebellion” and exploration. I made sure none of it interfered with earning a paycheck, but there were some pretty wild times in there.

  • Lana

    OMG word for word. No kidding.

  • Ryn

    Yep. I’ve got a friend who grew up as an ex-pat in a conservative Muslim country in the Middle East who will draw all sorts of parallels between American Christian fundamentalism and what he observed where he grew up.

  • Eliza

    Wow. Exactly the same wording, except for a few terms. Just wow.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    I once observed to a woman with 6 small children that at some pont she would have 6 teenagers in the house at once and she said, “There s a reward for good parentng and ts called teenagers and a punshment for bad parenting and it called teenagers.” I remember her soundng both angry and scared.