World of Lies

The farther I get from my time in patriarchal evangelical Christianity, the more often I’m struck by the realization that I spent my childhood being constantly deceived by people and churches I trusted.  I don’t mean about religion, though I no longer believe what I was taught about that, either.  I mean I was told numerous falsehoods about how people are and how the world is.  When I look back at my childhood now, it feels like I was living in a world of lies.  Elaborate, outrageous lies.  It feels like there was a deliberate conspiracy to keep children in the dark, to isolate us in an artificial world where parents and pastors had total control over shaping our perception of reality.

Obviously I was lied to about gender roles, and about sexuality, and reflecting on the process of untangling those lies is the main reason I started this blog.  But I was also taught lies about many other things.

I was raised to be absolutely convinced that Christian creationism was scientifically and historically proven.  That Noah’s Flood and the parting of the Red Sea and Joshua making the sun stand still were real, authenticated events in human history.  That evolution was just an alternate religion, with no valid scientific proof, invented by people who wanted to live in a godless world even though they all knew, deep down, that God created the universe in 6 days.  And I was fed the ridiculous falsehood that Charles Darwin renounced evolutionary theory and “accepted Christ” on his deathbed.

It was practically an article of faith that America was the greatest, most just, most Christian nation in the history of world – at least, until the liberals ruined everything and threatened to bring divine judgment down on the whole country.  We lived the most free society in the world, where everyone was treated equally – same warning about the threat of liberalism applied.    Racism, like slavery, was a thing of the past, had no bearing at all today, and anyway, white Christian evangelicals were responsible for the abolitionist movement.  Learning the real history of our country, our long and ongoing record of bigotry, injustice, imperialist aggression and interventionism has been a disillusioning process, to say the least.

I was taught that feminists hated men, hated children, and hated families.  That gay people posed a danger to children and wanted to destroy the family.  I was taught that only Christians are capable of “truly” loving other people, and of being good people.  That only Christians cared about marriage, family, and community.  That spouses can only truly love and care for each other until death if they are “founded on Christ.”  I was taught that divorce was always a self-serving decision to go back on marriage vows.

Boy, what a shock it was to grow up and realize that staunch feminism isn’t incompatible with caring about men – or with BEING a man.  And when my partner and I became parents and found our growing family being amazingly loved and supported by feminist friends, by gay friends, by, *gasp*, people who aren’t Christians, I was deeply ashamed to realize that I was surprised.  I had subconsciously assumed, because of all I’d been taught about who the real “good people” are, that we wouldn’t receive the kind of communal support from our friends as we would have if we had still been good evangelical Christians.  All the baggage and indoctrination from my childhood made it difficult to really believe the goodness and kindness I saw in people who weren’t my family’s kind of Christian – which, once I graduated high school and left home, was damn near everyone – even though the acceptance and love I experienced from friends like these far exceeded anything I’d ever felt in my childhood churches.

And this indoctrination also made it very difficult to see clearly the ways in which these churches, far from having a monopoly on goodness, kindness, or happy families, were often havens for abusers of all sorts, and full of repressed, unhappy people.  It made it difficult to see the emotional and spiritual abuse I experienced for what it was.

So many things I was taught turned out to be easily disproved lies, but learning the truth – learning to believe the truth and let go of the lies – has turned out to be a painstaking and not at all easy process.  I spent my entire childhood and adolescence being deceived and manipulated.  I wasted many of my young adult years trying to conform to a vision of life and of the world that was utterly false and rotten at its core.  It will take me years to reeducate myself, to retrain my instincts so that things that most people consider to be normal don’t trigger a reaction of fear or guilt, to acquaint myself with the truth and purge my life of all the evil after-effects of being taught to live a lie.

And yes, I am angry about it.  I’m very angry.  And letting go of that will take a while, too.

17 Comments

  1. Dear Grace,

    I share your anger–and your indoctrination, though from the Catholic Church. Still today, after more that 15 years after I left the church and started a long process of learning, studying, and de-mystifying the word (because at the end that was what the church did for me: place a dark, dense fog that made everything obscure and unclear), I still wake up now and then in the middle of the night with the vivid terror that the Angel of the end of times will sound the trumpet and I will find myself in hell, burning for eternity while all those horrible people that I see every day lying, robbing, marginalizing, even killing others (the majority of Christian churches and those who are committed to their ideas) will be laughing and pointing at me saying: we are better than you, even if you really worked every day to be fair, civil, carrying, including, respectful of others, and fight for many those who have been forgotten by the rest (because as somebody involved in education, I believe that what I do, as professional, in the classroom, in writings, in every day conversations, in campaigns makes a difference). And this is a very real fear that still crawls on my self frequently, and I am angry because nobody deserves to feel that way, especially when that fear was placed there by bigots and murderers.

    • Mark – that’s horrible. I’m sorry! I had similar experiences growing up – I was very afraid of death, and afraid of going to hell. I would have nightmares about movies our church would show about the torments of hell and the “tribulations” of the end times. It’s amazing to me and so sad that anyone would ever deliberately raise a child to be that afraid. And they wanted us to be afraid, so we would do the “right thing” (I always think, if it’s so right, shouldn’t you be able to convince people of it without using fear?). Making a child that afraid on purpose is nothing short of child abuse, in my opinion, and especially as a parent I find it cruel and repulsive. When we became parents I slowly realized I could never raise my child the way I was raised and I really didn’t feel right about holding up Christianity as a moral guide as a parent, given everything I’d learned and experienced.

  2. I was taught the same things. That having a “Biblical worldview” meant believing all those same things. That liberal and atheist were synonymous and they hated humanity and had an agenda against God (how can you have an agenda against something you don’t believe?) That Christianity is a logical, well-reasoned belief with absolute evidence – and those that disagree are just selfish people who *know* it’s true, but don’t want to give up their lives. That people who acknowledge that there are different ways of looking at things are saying that there is no truth. All kinds of crazy, paranoid ideas.

    I don’t really know where I am anymore. Another idea that was drilled into was that I couldn’t trust my own emotions, or my own perspective of the world – so now I feel like I’m slipping and sliding around thoughts and ideas with no real way of knowing how to judge them, or how to decide what fits for me. I still believe in God, but I’ve stopped going to church entirely, I trust the atheist before the Christian, and find that Christian ideas of love and truth are a trigger for me. I have a hard time seeing that there’s any difference with the Christianity I was raised with and the mental abusive craziness that my mother did to me. It feels like I was taught that right was wrong and wrong was right – and now I’m being told that I’m crazy for seeing things differently.

    I’m trying my best, putting one foot in front of the other, and hoping and praying that God – whoever He or She or It might be – is okay with that. And I’m learning to let myself be angry. It’s hard to let emotions come that I’ve shoved down for so long – but I’m learning.

    Sorry for the long, rambling comment…

    • It wasn’t rambling! I totally identify with everything you said, especially about the continuity between toxic family environments/toxic parents and this kind of Christianity. I think this kind of Christianity enables and encourages toxic and abusive parenting – in large part because it’s a toxic, abusive view of God! It’s not surprising that people in these communities parent by fear and control when that’s exactly how they think their ‘Heavenly Father’ relates to humans. It’s something I want to write more about on the blog sometime.

      • It really does. It’s hard for me to disentangle it most of the time. “Is the Christianity I was raised in really that toxic and neurotic, or was it the family I was raised in?” is not a question I know how to answer because I think both functioned in such a similar way that the lines blurred. My Christian community gave my family permission to be mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive because (aside from the physical abuse) it really didn’t look that much different from the community itself.

        I’ve removed myself from a lot of my former beliefs of God for that very reason – because looking at them all I could see was an emotionally abusive figure that likes to screw with humans for the heck of it – even if that is the God that exists, there’s no way that I can worship that anymore.

  3. Hi, Grace, this is my first time posting. I’m so sorry for all those lies–and you are right to be angry.

    It is so hard talking to folks who are still living in the Matrix once you’ve seen what it is–the lies, the foolishness, the fear. After 21 years at CLC and now three out of it, I feel like I’m rediscovering who I am, what I like to see and be and read and do.

    I made little stabs at independence while I was there — defying my husband to take the kid to see Harry Potter, teaching at and sending my kids to public school, wearing my purse strap across my chest even though it might cause a brother to stumble, listening to NPR instead of Focus on the Family, keeping relationships with folks outside of the Matrix.

  4. Here’s my question — do you think people were deliberately lying to you or themselves equally deceived?

    • Hi acme, thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!

      Oh, purse straps. When I was in college, I once mentioned how even purse straps worn across the chest can lead guys astray at a women’s bible study and gave some speech about modesty . . . everyone was looking at me like I was speaking gibberish. To my eyes then it seemed like a message a lot of women in the group needed to hear, but now I realize that SGM standards of modesty are, um, a little skewed. And it’s a great example of how ridiculous SGM’s culture looks to even other relatively conservative Christians.

      Re: whether the lying was deliberate, that’s a good question, as I was thinking about writing a post about that anyway. I don’t have a simple answer. I’m absolutely convinced that some people, particularly the people in positions of power and influence, are deliberately lying. I think the average person in the pew (or folding chairs, rather :p) is some combination of deceived, willfully ignorant, and very willing to overlook or excuse some pretty evil stuff. For me I don’t see a contradiction between believing that, for example, that parents in these churches sincerely believed everything they did was for their children’s good, and also believing that they ought to have known better.

      The professional “creation scientists” and intelligent design people are definitely consciously lying – this has been proven a number of court cases. The people who buy creation science books and videos for their kids – they’re deceived, but also willfully ignorant in a lot of cases. The theologians who pretend that over a century of biblical scholarship doesn’t exist because it completely undermines their claim that the bible is inerrant and literally true – they have access to that information, they deny it to people who trust them, and that’s lying, too. Again, the average Christian is deceived and just trusting what their pastors/theologians say, but most of them also have access to information that would dispel their misconceptions about what the bible is. The same goes for the leaders of the religious right who use misinformation to whip up fear (Prop 8 is a great example), and the people who accept what they say without question.

      Looking at SGM specifically – I think the pastors deliberately lie about a lot of things. They know the reality of spousal and child abuse in their churches, and they cover it up and brainwash people into repeating that their churches are “the happiest place on earth.”

      They have to know the things they tell young people about sex, especially what they tell the men, is a total lie. To be totally frank – 99% of men masturbate, and given all the confessing of lust that goes on in men’s meetings, the pastors have to know that SGM men are no different. But they still teach young boys that if they ever masturbate, it’s because they aren’t trying hard enough to control their lust. And that once they get married having sex with their wives will protect them from “indulging” lust by masturbating, which is just not true. This is something that all men do, and most women, too. Especially in the case of the men the pastors have to know on some level that they’re being deceitful on this issue.

      • Sorry for butting into another’s conversation (I’m a blog hog I guess….)

        I personally believe that differences between men and woman are mostly social constructs – and *even if* there are key differences, there’s no way we can really know what they are because society is too big an influence to examine them – and it was interesting because my mother once said, “But this neurologist said men and women’s brains are different! You would disagree with a *neurologist*??” and I said back to her, “You know, scientists say that evolution is true. You would disagree with a *scientist*?” and I think that represents some of the disconnect that takes place. Truth means very little – instead, its a matter of sifting through opinions to find the ones that correlate with their own beliefs, and throwing out anything else.

        And in that regard, I think it is intentional. My mother knows she does this – most people I meet know they do this. I have meet countless Christians who will loudly proclaim the intelligence of a scientist who argues in favor of creationism, saying “See? Science says its true!” and all the countless other scientists who say it’s not…they’re considered stupid or evil or a tool of the devil. Truth means very little to them.

        • It’s not butting in at all!

          We know so little about gender and the brain (or about the brain, period) that it’s totally ridiculous to claim it’s the main cause of gender differences. Especially when we know so much about how socialization shapes gendered behavior and and gender discrimination restricts people’s choices and opportunities.

          Totally agree with you that confirmation bias is a huge issue in evangelicalism. They’re not actually interested in putting their beliefs to even the mildest tests, much less in learning something new. They just agree with science (or history, or psychology, or pretty much any body of knowledge) when it’s convenient for them and mock it when it’s not.

  5. This culture of fear could not exist without the lies required to perpetuate it. When I look back at my childhood in the Foursquare church, everything taught in Sunday school and my Christian school was fear-based. “Sperm can crawl up your leg and get you pregnant”, “Aborted babies go to hell”, “Those on earth who die and go to hell do so because YOU didn’t witness to them, it’s YOUR fault” were just a few examples. I began to fear hell and falling from grace on a daily basis. I convinced myself that I wasn’t Christian enough, that when the horn sounded, I would be left on earth and get my head chopped off by the UN (anyone else remember those awful 1970s rapture movies?).

    Being exposed to a normal pop radio station would send me to hell. Wearing immodest clothing would cause someone to stumble and send them and me to hell. I began attributing normal, every day happenings as god’s wrath and anger at my sin. Every Sunday, when the altar call was made, I just knew in my heart that I should be up there confessing my sins again and praying for forgiveness…again.

    It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally began coming to terms with my own spiritual abuse. I am so very thankful to have come across this blog and others like it within the past few weeks. I really appreciate your posts, though I find it difficult to read at times. Until recently, I had blocked much of my childhood out, especially the early years at NLFC. I believe, however, that this is a step towards my own healing.

    Thank you.

    • I convinced myself that I wasn’t Christian enough, that when the horn sounded, I would be left on earth and get my head chopped off by the UN (anyone else remember those awful 1970s rapture movies?).

      Yes, I remember them! I very vividly remember the scene where the earthquake “saves” the main character by making the guillotine blade fall before she can receive the sign of the beast. Seriously fucked up stuff.

      I definitely understand that this is very difficult stuff to work through! I hoped this blog would help me heal and others as well, so I’m so glad to hear that you find it helpful.

  6. Lots of interesting stuff here. It also makes me, as another who grew up in the Catholic Church like Mark, wonder how I escaped some of the worst parts of what is described above. I can’t help but come back to the answer: blind luck.

    First, I think my parents were crazy in other ways, in addition to religion, that caused me to be able to see that maybe not everything they said was completely perfectly accurate. The constant contradiction, when it was theirs and not the doctrine’s, made it a little easier on young me to defy (only in secret, of course, since at that point I wasn’t openly expressing these thoughts).

    I also think that they only believed themselves about 60% of the time, so we often got half-assed or even completely uncommitted answers to some of our questions that allowed our doubt to ferment.

    Maybe the biggest break I got, though, was regarding two girls I had crushes on in high school. The first was completely insane. Much of that stemmed from her own upbringing and indoctrination in an oppressive church environment. We dated off and on for a while, and through her I was exposed to oh-so-many contradictions and frustrations. The second was a girl on whom I had a crush for a long time. She did not, to my knowledge, ever set foot in a church. She and her family had no religious affiliation whatsoever. And in my overzealous attempts to woo her, I learned lots and lots about her thoughts on being a good person, living a good life, et cetera.

    Now maybe it was because my parents slacked off in force-feeding me church doctrine, or maybe it was because I had dated the nutso for so long, (and maybe it was just really wanting to go out with the new girl) but I was particularly receptive to this second girl’s ideas. Even years later, I still come back to the fact that she was one of the “best” people I knew — thoughtful, caring, helpful, hardworking, considerate, respectful, et cetera et cetera — yet she had a fairly open contempt for organized religion. I wasn’t nearly ready for that, but it was very valuable to see that it was possible to be a worthwhile individual without living life as though Jesus and the Pope were seated on my shoulders, calling the shots.

  7. When I was 12 I had a friend like this. Wasn’t even allowed to take classes that taught about evolution. Her mother actually told me that I should “look at both sides before making a decision” because I was a science geek.

    • Yea, that’s pretty standard. It’s taken for granted that kids should just be kept from any information that contradicts the church’s point of view and any other perspectives – even from other Christians! The idea is that reading/hearing other opinions or facts would lead kids astray. To me that shows a serious lack of confidence in a faith they claim is 100% true – if it’s so true, shouldn’t it be able to stand up to just being exposed to other ideas?

  8. Wow. Your post describes my life. I think the leaders in my church are decieved because they like the power given them. And if they knowingly deceive others they do so because they believe it is for the deceived person’s good.

    I looked up SGM and it is very similar to my church. Search Sharon Star or Latter Rain.

    But I can’t see SGM without thinking FGM.
    pSychological Gender Mutilation.

    • I think the leaders in my church are deceived because they like the power given them. And if they knowingly deceive others they do so because they believe it is for the deceived person’s good.

      I do think there are situations where there is deliberate, malicious deceit – pastors and theologians are no more immune to than that anyone else. But on the whole I agree that the intentions behind the deceit are usually sincerely well-intentioned. And like you said the power that comes from being in position of pastor – particularly in churches like SGM where there is absolutely no congregational input into how the church is run – is very tempting, and can lead people to deceive themselves or overlook things.

      It does sound like SGM came out of the same movements as your former church. Ugh.