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.