I’ve written recently about whole sad long saga with my room mate who gaslit, extorted and just generally bullied me. It has only been within the past months that I’ve connected some dots between that chapter of my life and the particular brand of Christianity that I came to embrace after that.
After disentangling myself from that mess, I was quick to take stock of myself and decide I didn’t want to be that bitter, mistrustful person who pays forward what one abusive person did to their soul. I did a lot of the right things. I saw a counselor to decompress. I practiced some self-care. Did some things I’d always wanted to do that you-know-who wouldn’t have approved of. I got a dog. I also gave myself some positive affirmations to erase all the ugly ones that I’d absorbed over the past six years. In short, I really thought I was processing the entire shit storm as well as could be expected.
Here’s the rub: so much of why I accepted what I did from this woman for so long was precisely because of some foundational beliefs I held from long before I met her. Foundational beliefs that were so deeply entangled with my reality that I believed them to be universal truths. I’d mentioned before that it finally took seeing how this woman treated other people to open my eyes to the wrongness of what was going on between her and I. Yes, I realized that friends don’t extort large sums of money from other friends, don’t say the kinds of things that she said to me, et cetera. In a sense, this was all surface revelations, though.
Still swimming below the surface was the belief that depending on what a victim did, it may be understandable that an abuser did what they did. Regrettable, wrong, but also not without a certain amount of sympathy for what the poor abuser was driven to. I also believed the pop culture religion idea that everything “happens for a reason” to make us a better person. That reason, of course, is never that the whole situation could have been avoided with some wiser choices. I’ve written about my struggles with what I now know to be Borderline Personality Disorder and I may fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, albeit on the mild end. In short: I was indeed a challenge to be around.
More than once I was told “if you don’t want me to call you stupid, then don’t act stupid” No doubt she heard the same thing from ole mom and dad. It’s not a surprise that this woman tried to bully and shame me into emotional health, based on some things I know about her own history. It’s not really an uncommon approach, although the extremes she took it to were…unique.
I’d say it’s been within the past year that I’ve have had the realization that what I did deserve was the kind of boundaries paired with encouragement that my final therapist provided me with. There were options besides just enabling vs. bullying. It doesn’t matter how annoying I was, how stressful, how trying. I did not deserve to be shamed, manipulated and punished by another adult “for my own good”.
It’s been even more recent that I’ve had the light bulb of realization go on surrounding my vision of God in the image of my abuser. It’s no secret that I’ve been deconstructing my faith since the November 2016 election. That was when the cognitive dissonance of far right evangelicalism simply became too much to bear. Unlike a lot of people who deconstruct though, God and I have history. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that once I stopped listening to other people and got still and alone with what I believed to be God; the answers came. I was directed. One step at a time. One day at a time. No big Pentacostal sideshow. Just a still small voice in those moments that I was utterly confused and forced to make decisions that I felt powerless to make on my own. The more I worked my twelve step program too, the more the clarity came.
But. And it’s a very big “but”. Prior to that point, I was drawn like a heat seeking missile to some truly messed up permutations of the Christian faith. Can anybody say “quiverfull”? Just in case you aren’t up to speed on such things, the quiverfull movement is where one eschews birth control to “let God plan your family”. So often in these circles it is repeatedly stressed to people that they cannot trust what they believe that still small voice is telling them because “the heart is desperately wicked”.
Everything in this flavor of Christianity is fear based. I’ve also written about my failed attempt at breastfeeding. There was a fair amount of crossover here as the quiverfull crowd is very into “natural parenting”, which of course includes breastfeeding. Obviously breastfeeding advocacy expands way beyond the quiverfull movement,but there’s definitely a Venn Diagram area of overlap. I was afraid of divine retribution in the form of “natural consequences” for my failings.
It’s important to note that I was not really attending churches that were that extreme during this time frame. They were all pretty mainstream. But. Here’s that very big “but” again,though. Even in churches that did not teach the extremes of the quiverfull and natural parenting movements, there was that paradigm lurking around that God is cruel for our own good. You know, sort of like my room mate was. It felt normal because even prior to calling myself a Christian, this dynamic with others was well in place. Of course people are cruel because they have your best interests at heart. They can’t let you stay where you’re at for your own detriment, can they? I took my beliefs of how I thought the world worked and was drawn to a vision of a God who pretty much displayed the same characteristics.
Even among very mainstream evangelicals, I heard tale after tale of people who came to take their faith more seriously because God made something horrible happen to them. You know. For their own good. This did not feel off at all because it completely mirrored an already existing paradigm that I believed to be true. I can’t stress this enough, so it bears repeating.
I’ve come to realize as I’ve watched the past couple of years in Trump’s America unfold that an awful lot of folks believe this as well. It explains stances ranging from the personal to the political held by an enormous chunk of evangelicals. Even ones who do not go to “weird” churches. Again, I can’t stress this point enough. A lot of people have the sense to flee from churches that are obviously strange, yet they still hold a “light” version of the same beliefs that enable these more extreme views to flourish. Much of it revolves around a very punitive God. A God who behaves in ways that we wouldn’t hesitate to label “abusive” if a mere mortal acted in that manner towards us.
I feel like I put disclaimers in my writing a lot, so here’s another one. I am not a theologian. I don’t have the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and the seeming discrepancies there all nailed down. Honestly, though, I sometimes wonder if the old testament writers just put their own interpretation of what they thought they saw God doing in there so it comes off as a lot more cruel on God’s end than it actually was. Certainly a lot of modern Christian writers put words in God’s mouth without any actual evidence.
Whether it’s Christian “parenting” writers with their constant emphasis on controlling your children into submission or the cavalier attitude of so much of the conservative church to the poor and/or marginalized, it’s really all just more of the same “cruel to be kind” approach that I’d been privy to for much of my life, both in and out of church.
What an astonishing moment to have the scales fall off of one’s eyes. I was initially drawn to Christianity not because of rules and punishment but because I wanted to believe that concepts like Grace and Love and Mercy exists; that we are all equal in God’s eyes. I quickly got dragged away from that by the enticing formulas that are pretty much the bread and butter of evangelicalism, but in the beginning, I very much was drawn to the principles of life that Jesus preached.
It’s a bit of a bait and switch operation though. Drawn to faith by Jesus’ radical goodness, it’s easy to make the fatal mistake of thinking that growth lies not in allowing God himself to change you from the inside out, but to instead get sucked into a black hole of ever increasing demands. It becomes very mean. Following this line of thinking, it’s easy to end up in a place where you simply blame others for their own predicaments and believe you are doing them no favors by showing the very kind of mercy and grace that Jesus shows over and over.
I used to think that it was just a few bad apples in evangelicalism, but after the November 2016 election I had a gradual epiphany. It occurred to me that even among folks who are kind on the surface, there are so many underlying falsehoods below,that it’s like a systemic cancer. It extends to the Republican politics so closely wedded to evangelicalism, even among people who claim they “aren’t political”.
One of my greatest moments of repentance has been realizing that I had taken the meanness wrought upon me and passed it on to others. I didn’t just fail to show mercy to myself; I also failed to show it to others. I hit all the right wing talking points.
Anne Lamott has said that “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” I’d say that pretty much sums it all up.
Micah 6:8 tells us “He has told you, O mortal what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”. It is one of my favorite verses and so indicative of the beacons of light that one can become into if one yields themselves to a God of love and hope and grace instead of a God of punishment, fear and coercion. Remember too, that Romans 2:4 tells us that “The kindness of God leads us to repentence”