If there was one thing I could say that drew me to fundagelical Christianity, way back when, it was the unchanging and static nature of the viewpoint, as illusory as that viewpoint was and is.
There’s a certain comfort in something that never changes and is always perfect. Until then, I’d had a very chaotic life that was marked more by tumult than by security. I’d experienced crushing poverty and terrifying abuse. I’d learned how fallible and scarily unreliable most adults and authority figures can be. And yet despite all of that, I was still, essentially, rather trusting and naive. All things told, I was ripe for the picking. The idea of a trustworthy, good, kind deity who only wanted what was best for me and would never, ever, harm me or hurt me–that was a draw I couldn’t resist. This deity was always there for me, but also, his rules were always understandable. Do what this book of his said to do, and act like he said to act, and I’d never be steered wrong. I never had to worry about stuff changing, or about deals altering further. This thing was always like this. That thing was always like that. I never had to think about it.
Just as rape culture tells women that if they just act demure and non-threatening, they will never be assaulted or victimized, my religion told me that I’d always be at peace. I didn’t go in for that prosperity gospel stuff; I knew that sometimes life might throw me a curve ball “for my own good,” or because my god wanted to “teach me a lesson” that he mysteriously couldn’t do any other way, but peace and security, at least, was what I wanted. My mind felt like a sandstorm most of the time–gritty, hard to understand, roiling with emotions and uncertainty. Change made that storm even more chaotic and unendurable. Change was bad, and so I feared it.
Obviously, eventually I figured out that these ideas I’d gotten about this god were totally incorrect; Biblical literalism just doesn’t stand up to any kind of scholarship or scrutiny, and what fundamentalists think is the same “yesterday, today and tomorrow” is actually almost entirely dependent upon cultural context and one’s particular quirky take on the translation in question. Literalism only kind-of works if someone doesn’t spend a lot of time really thinking about it. But I didn’t know that then. In a world where nothing could be taken for granted, I embraced a worldview that gave me at least a little comfort and at least a tiny sense of control.
I’m not sure outsiders–people who’ve never gotten into fundamentalism–can ever really understand. Most people value freedom, or at least they say they do. The idea of being kept basically as a pet or living as a slave wouldn’t appeal to most people. Fundamentalism gets around that drawback by making slavery sound like the bonus plan. It’s little wonder that right-wing Christians don’t get why other folks have a problem with forced gestation or outright enslavement; they’ve spent a lifetime rationalizing that crime against humanity to the point where slavery seems perfectly okay in some situations. Remember George Orwell’s description of doublethink? It’s like that–if you keep saying often enough that slavery is really freedom and war is really peace, people will eventually be able to hold those two totally contradictory ideas in mind at the same time. It’s even easier to get people to do that when the person pushing those contradictory ideas holds a great deal of authority.
Indeed, one of the things I see happening in modern fundagelicalism especially is this terror of change. The world is changing. Things are changing. Ideas are changing. Dominance is no longer assured. More and more evidence is coming out and getting shared that makes an eternally unchanging and utterly always-like-this god more and more of a theological thorn. Literalism especially–which always, I suspect, had its serious problems, from the time it got made up in the 1800s–is coming under fire, challenging the people who go for that flavor of Christianity.
Out of every cruel and evil thing fundagelical Christianity did to me, this–this denial of the reality of change–this was the worst thing of all. I’d always had anxiety attacks, ever since my teens, but toward the end of my time in the religion, these exploded into full-scale panic attacks of the sort that drive sufferers to ERs convinced they’re having heart attacks. Slowly, slowly, I learned that they were happening to me because of my terror of change and the stress I was causing my mind and body due to my need to control my environment as much as possible–and, of course, due to the doublethink with which I’d been so well indoctrinated. It took me many years to crawl out of that fear and stress and to learn that change is good. Change is essential. The pot must be stirred.
The reason I bring all this up is because I’m moving this week (which means we might end up on Mingo Mean time for a bit as my computer gets moved over, which’ll happen tomorrow or Monday; I hope to be back up and running by Wednesday or Thursday) and ran across my high school letter jacket. The sleeves are made of some kind of vinyl, and when I grabbed the jacket out of the closet to pack it, my hand came away covered in an industrial-grade slimy, oily filth. My jacket is cheerfully disintegrating back into its component molecules. Ashes to ashes, petrochemicals to petrochemicals, I reckon.
It’s not that I wore it past the afternoon of my high school graduation. And this one’s especially awful; my school’s colors were, shall we say, especially unflattering (seriously, who deliberately goes for burnt orange as a school color? This was the option out of all available options? WTF!). But this was my letter jacket. Mine. I earned it. I’d never expected to get one at all, and to my shock, I not only got one but got more letters to sew onto it than I could reasonably fit on it. When I look at it and realize it’s dead now, I feel like a piece of myself has been taken away. I have to struggle to remember that stuff eventually does that, and that it’s just stuff.
I don’t like moving at all. This sucks sooooo bad. I hate being disrupted and uprooted. I hate losing stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years. I mean hey, I’m hardly a packrat; my current abode is about 800 square feet and nowhere near full–but dang it, this is my stuff. That said, change is part of life. And we can ignore it, deny it, grudgingly accept it, or embrace it.
I know what I’d rather do.
Y’all have a wonderful week. I’ll be back online as fast as I can. I’ll miss you.