The personal relationship with Jesus Christ that large swaths of Evangelicals want everyone to believe is the true version of Christianity is a deeply abusive relationship. Their Jesus is emotionally and mental abusive. For some, I suppose, he could also be physically abusive, but that was not my experience. Still, emotional and mental abuse were the norm, so much so that in my last year or so of Evangelical Christianity I took to referring to god as “The Cosmic Jackass.”
Making claims like that generally require a certain amount of support. The classic situation of abuse is where one party holds another in thrall, usually through threats that may or may not get carried out. Sometimes the threat is enough. Sometimes the threat must be backed up by a demonstration. This is most easily conceived of in the case of physical abuse, obviously, but I know of no one who would claim that mental or emotional abuse aren’t very real things. So the question then becomes, “How does one identify this abuse when one party isn’t really there?”
For that the answer basically boils down to an abuse that is both created and enforced by cultural norms and group behavior. God, it is said, doesn’t want you to read a book about science or watch a TV show that contains sex because that would be bad. If you do something that would be bad, god will harm you in some way, generally by “withdrawing his protection.”
I went to public schools in Illinois in the ‘80s and ‘90s and, as such, learned real history and real science. I was largely insulated from the Evangelical obsession with teaching creationism and the revisionist American history of David Barton and his ilk. As far as I knew, Biblical history lined up with secular history in all important aspects, but this was due to learning about the Bible in church with the implicit assumption that it was all accurate while I learned about history in school and the two tracks never really merged in any sort of meaningful way. Science, for the most part, simply didn’t come up. I gradually became aware of the fact that my secular education was fundamentally incompatible with my Biblical education, but no one told me that I had to pick one over the other.
My first true realization of the mental abuse inherent in Evangelical Christianity came about because of Amy. We driving across the vast corn- and soybean fields of western Illinois discussing something or other when I casually mentioned something vaguely science-y that I took for granted, like the age of the universe or the Earth or whatever. This was post-breakdown but pre-second breakdown, when I was still several months away from going back and volunteering with my old junior high youth group. I was still planning on going to seminary at the time.
Amy didn’t like what I said and proceeded to argue in favor of what I now know is basic Answers in Genesis creationist bullshit. She might have actually been the first person to mention Ken Ham to me, as I know she talked about him and I had no idea who he was. I was completely and totally unprepared for that conversation, as the idea of entire lines of thought and human knowledge being completely closed off was foreign to me. More than that, though, the absolute, shocking vehemence with which she shut down my simple statements of basic scientific fact surprised me. I’d always regarded her as being smart and inquisitive, so I’d naturally assumed she’d be interested.
I think that after that conversation she became progressively more scared of me. She gradually withdrew from or just plain avoided any conversations where I held the intellectual high ground, as she became convinced that she couldn’t win against me in those arenas. I didn’t realize that at the time. Hell, I didn’t realize that until she flat-out told me, using words not so far off from the ones I typed two sentences ago.
A while after the car conversation we were hanging out at her apartment. One of her roommates – who was not the most intellectually gifted person in the world – was there. I, once again, dropped a casual reference to the universe’s age into the conversation. Amy immediately told me to shut up because she didn’t want me confusing her roommate or have to start a difficult conversation.
I don’t recall her roommate even noticing. I wonder now if she was just trying to protect herself.
It’s telling, though, that I had to go to an outside source, such as it is, for the mental abuse. Intellectual honesty has always been deeply important to me and I have no fear of questioning my assumptions (sometimes too often, really). That’s pretty much why I don’t do church anymore.
Well, that and the emotional abuse. I mean, duh.
So, we covered way back in Part 1 of this here series that I have a notable lack of useful coping mechanisms. I also have massive self-image issues, which was why doing the Fat Kid thing was just awesome. I took that self-image stuff and channeled it all to an easily identifiable (and, sadly, really mundane) area. Girls don’t like me? Fat Kid. I’m too afraid to talk to girls? It’s not that, it’s that I know they won’t like me because I’m the Fat Kid.
Boom, right there. It’s that second degree of self-justification that contains all the explanatory power. That’s where Evangelical Christianity got all up in my business and fucked me over.
See, Evangelical Christianity has two messages. The first is, “You totally fucking suck.” The second is, “Only we can help you with that.” The second message is rarely delivered as anything other than a promise. As long as people keep buying the first message and the promise of the second, they’ll keep coming back for more. And more. And more.
I learned to be pathetic and helpless growing up Evangelical. Every Sunday School or prayer meeting or Sunday sermon revolved around the idea that I wasn’t good enough and the only way I could become good enough was to accept Jesus. If I still didn’t feel good, the message that I got was that I wasn’t accepting Jesus hard enough or the right way. If I still didn’t feel good, the message I got was that I was still holding something back and I needed to give even more of myself.
I sublimated all of my hopes and dreams to the demented, abusive Jesus of Evangelical Christianity. I then sat back and waited for Jesus to show up and make all of the sacrifices I made worthwhile. When I finally realized that it was never, ever going to happen I left. In leaving, though, I walked away from the cold comfort of the abusive relationship.
Sure, I could be intellectually free, but after some two decades of absorbing a message about how I wasn’t good enough and would never be good enough and could only be helped in that one place I had no coping skills whatsoever. I only knew anger and waiting. This was mostly because in the past my three mechanisms were prayer, waiting, and then getting really fucking mad because nothing was happening.
With prayer out the window, well, there we go.
I also got into the habit of incorporating alcohol as an integral part of the waiting. At first it was basically a beer while watching TV or writing or whatever. Then I developed a taste for single malt and bourbon. Then I started to look for excuses to incorporate beer or bourbon as a part of pretty much everything I did. After a while it was just kind of a thing.
Texas, for the record, did not help. I was just beginning to adjust to the idea that I had a career-type thing and I was independent and I could think of myself as safe when the rug was pulled out from under me. I negotiated a raise in the process of moving down, but the message that constantly whispered in the back of my head was, “You’re not in control. You can’t make any long-term decisions. You’re not safe here, there, or anywhere.” I spent a year and a half mostly feeling hopeless. Also, too, angry. We can’t forget angry (although at least some of that anger was well-targeted).
So when I moved back from Texas and decided to buy a house, well, that was a massive amount of stress. I endlessly re-hashed the decisions I’d made over the previous couple of years and thought of the ways god decisions I’d made after careful consideration then were going to completely screw me over now. I cycled through worst-case scenario after worst-case scenario. I filled spreadsheets with theoretical budgets and tweaked or re-did them based on new guesses that amounted to maybe $20/month. That’s, like, the diametric opposite of a coping mechanism.
I’d also decided to try a novel approach and not get angry about every unexpected thing that happened. That left obsession and alcohol. A week and a half ago I suddenly realized I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing with the latter anymore. I’d stopped caring about whether or not I was in control of myself or my situation. That’s dangerous.
So the solution is to come up with an actual useful way of coping with the world and dealing with the unexpected now and unknowable future. I can’t hide from any of it, after all. And even if I wanted to hide, I don’t actually allow myself to do so, what with the being obsessive and whatnot. So that’s a no-go.
It’s simple, really. I know what I want. I’ve always known what I want. So I have to admit it to myself and then take necessary steps to get it done. I can’t just deny everything and hope it happens anyway.
And, yeah, that’s kind of the thing. I’ve still got a weird, jumbled collection of thoughts that loosely tie in, but the main thoughts are all out there. And they’re probably confusing, since it’s a bunch of stuff that makes sense and follows nicely in my head and only in my head.
What’re ya gonna do?
One of the many, many ways I differed from the norm was in my lack of fear of swearing. I learned all of the important cuss words in the fifth grade. In high school I learned the Spanish equivalents, which is kinda funny, since I went to school in Glen Ellyn, IL, which is mostly known for being lily-white and affluent. I’d make a joke here about learning Spanish cuss words from my friends, who learned them from their landscapers, but the truth was that I hung out with soccer players. I believe Spanish cussing is the lingua franca of the soccer world.
Either way, I remember sitting in a church across the street from campus and talking to the pastor about my struggles with Christianity and constantly using the term “Cosmic Jackass God.” He was, in most respects, a good man and pretty game to engage and talk about things that were not to be talked about. So he actually did try to meet me where I was, which included at least one very halting mention of the blasphemy in which I was casually engaged. While sitting in his church. This, weirdly, is a good memory of that time.
We see this one all the time from the TV blowhards like Pat Robertson. They literally say, “Because America repealed DADT, god has withdrawn his protection from America.” This is a completely meaningless phrase that nevertheless reverberates with a certain population segment. Whether the idea is used cynically to rile up the faithful or the person saying it genuinely means it and has no idea that they sound like an idiot is a question I cannot answer. I think it’s a case-by-case and speaker-by-speaker thing and anyone who claims that it’s all innocent or all coldly calculating is either naïve or hopelessly cynical.
On a different thread, in 2000 I did what any good, Wheaton Evangelical did and voted for George W Bush. In 2004 I voted for Obama in the Senate (I mean, c’mon, his opponent was Alan Keyes…), but as the 2008 Presidential elections were shaping up I was still in a basic conservative mindset and McCain hadn’t completely imploded, so I was planning on voting Republican. Amy was firmly Team Obama pretty much from the get-go and argued long and hard against me.
Cross-sectional demographics is hard. This is the lesson we’ve learned here.
I don’t know how to put this lightly, but $20/month doesn’t mean much of anything to me. I’m not rich, but the sudden realization that I’d forgotten to put the cost of a $60 quarterly parking pass at the train station should have resulted in a shrug rather than flurry of panicked Exceling.