Monday, November 22, 2010

Ghosts of Protestants Past

Yesterday was a difficult Sunday at church. We are doing a series in which various members share those positive aspects of their childhood faiths that they brought with them into their UU practice and we started things off with Protestants. I was interested in the subject matter, but totally unaware of how it would hit me. I have been trying to put emphasis lately on moving forward into positive faith rather than dwelling on rebelling against the past. I don’t want to continue to define myself as a former anything. I thought I had made a lot of progress.

Sometimes we are not very honest with ourselves. I was so uncomfortable while people were sharing it was all I could do not to just get up and leave. I bolted out of there as soon as the service was over. I had a really strong emotional reaction and it wasn’t to what was being said; it was to my own response. I felt myself interpreting people through old filters. I didn’t like what I was showing myself about who I still am on the inside. I would like to be an open minded agnostic Unitarian Universalist, and part of me is. But the truth is that my base setting is that of a lapsed, disillusioned, and guilty Pentecostal. It made me question, whether or not I can really do Unitarian Universalism.

So I read Soul Seeds this morning. Anthony has a great post and this part in particular leapt off the screen at me.

Many books have been written recently about the Christian Right. One that does a particularly good job of getting inside the movement’s worldview, particularly that of its working-class members, is Spirit and Flesh: Life Inside a Fundamentalist Baptist Church by James M. Ault Jr…. Ault, like George Lakoff and several other authors, locates the heart of the Christian Right worldview in its overall vision of family life—not just in the positions it takes on a handful of specific “family values” issues like abortion or same-sex marriage.

[According to this overall vision of family life,] a child … is born into a network of mutual obligations and depends for its survival on the fulfillment of those obligations. As it grows, the child takes an ever more active role in upholding that network. At no point in the process is the individual in a position to stand outside the network and choose whether or not its obligations apply to him or her. The only choice the individual has is whether to fulfill his/her obligations or to renege on them. This is what fundamentalists mean when they say that moral values are “absolute” rather than “relative.”

Regular readers know that I struggle with relationships in my family and that second paragraph clarified things for me.

I feel like a bad daughter for leaving the faith.

I feel like I have betrayed my family and their sacrifices. I know it isn’t true, in my head that is. I know that I had to choose a different path. I can't live those values. Pretending to worship Christ to protect their feelings was eating at me. The dishonesty was toxic and it affected my children more than I realized at the time. I know leaving the church was the right thing for me. And still. And still I feel like I have let them down. I feel their disappointment. I often wonder why it is so hard for me to get over my former religion when I had so many positive experiences growing up in it. But it is this, it is so tied up with my family and my place in it. I don’t think I can get over one issue without the other.

I generally feel like I have my act together, but it is a times like these that I think maybe I am a lot more fucked up than I realize.


  1. I would like to reprint this, with your permission, in our newsletter. Please contact me at Thanks, Ian

  2. I have struggled with this same thing for over 30 years, SA, and it's hard. I no longer feel guilty, but I am always aware of it when I am with my family. One thing that has been helpful to me is to acknowledge the ways my religion (UUism) is benefiting me and others, ways that my former religion did not use. I also, through a 12 step program, discovered a spiritual bottom line that my family and I have in common, and we talk about it. We don't talk theology, because we differ so much, but we talk church and reaching out in the community and who we are praying for, that sort of thing. It is actually very helpful to be "religiously bi-lingual", speaking the language of fundamentalism, even though we may define the words somewhat differently.

  3. This is a wonderful post, Strange.

  4. Thank you all for your kind comments. I am touched.

    Ms. Kitty - I do realize the benefits of being "religiously bi-lingual" as you say. If nothing else, it makes it easier for people to communicate when a few of us can translate.

    Zenmasher - please see response via e-mail.