Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why I'm No Longer a Fundamentalist Christian - Part I: The Beginning

Awhile ago I decided to start writing a series of posts detailing serious and not-so-serious reasons why I am no longer a fundamentalist Christian. I hope this will not simply be an exercise of self-analysis, but will also speak to larger issues of extremism, conformity, and identity processes, among other sociology-related topics.

So, to start, I will tell you the context in which I came to be a fundamentalist Christian, which seems a necessary background to the objective of explaining why I am no longer a fundamentalist Christian. I blame it on sixth grade, but I don't want to get too ahead of myself.

I did not grow up particularly religious. Although my mother occasionally took me and my little sister to church, it was always to liberal congregations (i.e., Congregational, Unitarian, United Methodist, Presbyterian).* And her main reason for taking us to church was not because she was worried about our souls going to eternal damnation if we weren't "saved," but because she thought that Christianity had some good lessons to teach (seriously, who doesn't think The Golden Rule is useful both individually and socially?).

My mother herself would probably be classified as agnostic, but this is somewhat tricky. The last time we talked about this, she believed that a man named Jesus lived (or at least someone thought he did), and he did good works. But she has never believed Jesus was the son of god, or that people have to take Jesus into their hearts to be saved from the fiery pits of Hell. And I'm not sure she even believes that there is a god anymore, but I think she did when we were little.** So I'll classify her as agnostic for lack of a better category.

My father, who grew up an actively participating Quaker (so active that he was able to legitimately claim alternative service status during the Vietnam War - he served as a hospital orderly), has been a self-proclaimed agnostic as long as I can remember. I'm not really sure why he stopped believing in god (if he ever did), but I think his young-adult experiences turned him away from any sort of organized religion - add to this that he is a medical doctor and scientist at heart. My father seems content in his agnosticism, and has never done anything I've seen to try to get beyond not knowing; it just doesn't seem to be an important enterprise for him.

As you can see, I did not grow up highly religious, or highly spiritual for that matter. I did grow up learning the value of curiosity and education.

But sixth grade was BAD,*** and my sister was also not having the time of her life in public school. Living in a relatively rural location, my parents had one option - a private, fundamentalist Christian school. I think they reasoned that the potential benefits outweighed the potential costs. After all, wouldn't Christian children be nicer than public school children? In addition, they let us make our own decision about which school to attend. And we wanted to go to the private school.****

So we matriculated into a school where Bible class became integrated into our daily curriculum, along with Math, Science, Language Arts, and Social Studies. Into a school where most of the children believed in a different reality from our previous reality, a reality that included Evil and Good constantly warring against one another - there was never any room for grey. And, lo and behold, we both eventually bought into it. But that is a post for another day.

*All four of these congregations range from fairly to extremely liberal in California. United Methodism in Georgia is a much different animal, as I will probably discuss in a future post.
**It's funny how a bunch of adverse conditions that never seem to relent can make one question their faith in a loving god who is watching out for each of us. Hmm...
***In retrospect, I have come to understand that middle school is bad for everybody, regardless of where you fall on the stratification hierarchy, but how was I supposed to understand that then? I just knew that every day hurt emotionally.
****I truly think this was a big mistake on my parents' part, although I am quite cognizant that they were doing the best they could. But think about it...my sister and I were 9 and 11 - hardly old enough to make what would become a very huge decision in our lives.

1 comment:

Katie Stamos said...

You are such an insightful writer. Eagerly awaiting Part II!