because oops, things not being super clear.
SO. i was raised baptist (not southern baptist tho). we went to a “first baptist church” in our town, which was also our homeschool group and main social group.
we had AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) every wednesday, which involved games, singing religious songs, bible study, bible workbooks, reciting verses to earn store credit for things like Cool Erasers, and splitting into gendered groups a lot. oh, and special events like building and racing tiny wooden cars once a year, and summer camp for preteens.
so church was sunday morning — not sunday school either, most of the time; sitting in pews, being prodded to sit up straight, listening to…not exactly fire-and-brimstone, but a cousin thereof? not Impassioned Charismatic Oration, but firm biblical warnings. very much Lectures. the singing was really nice, although sedate. can’t remember if we pledged allegiance or the flags were just there.
everything else was church-friend activities. sewing through a baptist contact; piano through a baptist contact; swimming lessons with a bunch of church kids and parents; ballet might have been secular but that was a single year; church book fairs, church choirs, church caroling. annual vacation bible school over the summer for a straight week. we only ever visited three friends’ houses, all of them baptist. every single day had an activity with church people.
actually, i think i had a hard time in Scouts because it wasn’t church-y, and most everyone else was in public school, and they said things i didn’t understand. plus, y’know, Gender, and being trained to Serve without getting to say no or understand why or want to, and having to Shield My Eyes from unallowed media like when they played disney‘s mulan at a gathering. feeling Apart and attributing it to being a good christian.
school-wise, my three-years-younger sister and i studied at home from textbooks, with our mom as our teacher. from what i remember, we started around 9 and were done by 1 (in time for the good tv!). i loved workbooks. once a year we had standardized state testing at the church to prove we were learning sufficient stuff, and i loved that too.
bible study was an official class; in 6th grade, i had videotape “classes” with pre-recorded “fellow students” with names and everything who would get called on, and one of the six-or-so subjects was bible study.
i was a Pro at memorizing, and performed in front of the church multiple times, reciting all the names of god or singing with my sister (and elbowing each other for the mic, and getting chewed out later, lol).
that’s most of the in-baptist-church stuff, so let’s back up.
at home, i know that by age three, my mom was trying to save my soul. recently i’ve refound pamphlets aimed at very young children, teaching that all non-christian friends are going to hell, and we must save them if we can. the bookcase also still has james dobson’s books. we grew up on audiotapes of adventures in odyssey, which is produced by focus on the family. there were some other, sing-a-long christian tapes we always played on road trips, and the radio was always christian. zero secular music. (piano classes were classical music only.)
at age six, i distinctly remember, slash, i have a story i tell myself: one night, i was terrified of not being saved. i prayed and prayed so hard for a sign that i was truly saved, truly repentant and forgiven. and then — here’s where two different things might have happened. either, i actually, spontaneously developed the taste of soap in my mouth, and took that as a sign and ran to tell my sleeping mother and beg to be baptized… or, i went to the bathroom, and put soap in my mouth myself, but somehow interpreted it to be a sign (and ran to mom to be baptized).
truth is lost to time, and honestly, it works well this way.
shortly thereafter i was indeed baptized. and we had a videotape made of it. and i loved watching it. and i loved being in the spotlight.
i also know i read a lot of our “little missionaries” books (and pilgrim’s progress was my favorite book, followed by little women, and our series of books on people like david livingstone and elijah and corrie ten boom, and the Elsie books about a girl who marries a man ten years her senior because he’s god-fearing). and i was terrified i was being called to be a missionary. i would pray over and over to please please not make me do that, but if i must then make my heart right, make me willing. change how i felt. use me, god.
(same, later, about how deeply i loved anime, how happy it made me, did i love it over god, was it the thing i should be sacrificing to be closer to him, please don’t make me give it up but if i must then give me strength)
it’s hard to pin down how things shifted. i know that our pastor left the church after some disagreement and vote, and my parents left because of that. we had already been doing vacation bible school and church plays through another church, a “Church of God” (what denomination that is i have noooo idea) that was very vibrant and joyous and did a lot of theatre and big productions. and somewhere around the same time, we entered public school, 7th grade for me and 4th for my sister.
public school was. hell. not the cognitive dissonance of learning about evolution and regurgitating it for the test while remembering it was all fake. but the social atmosphere. i was relentlessly bullied, as i was visibly strange. making friends was…almost impossible, especially when met with early betrayal, and struggling with what it meant to have non-devout christian friends. but the christian club and the prayer meetings at school were also…awkward. “christian” didn’t mean one solid thing anymore, especially as our church had changed.
the first time someone told me she pick-and-chose her own religion, i stuttered to a halt. (joyce in general? suuuuper relatable. unfortunately. also inspiration for writing this.) you know, moral foundation, and you just can’t do that, it’s cheating!
and when i loved x-men and stayed at my aunt’s place, and my cousin said evolution was obviously real and anything that denied it was stupid and didn’t have good arguments (and…i didn’t have good arguments, just “the earth isn’t that old” and “fossils could be faked”), i also started stumbling.
a lot of things became more visible through interacting with non-church people, because we didn’t have the same assumptions. i don’t think i knew anything but straight existed until i found slash anime icons online, or read the book series that our whole family and church-friends was reading that had surprise subtle queerness.
it’s hard to remember if this sort of upheaval came before or during or after i was (already?) heeding every altar call and obsessing over whether i was really forgiven and if i was why didn’t it feel like it. i do know my OCD was around in childhood, especially as worrying about step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother’s-back and pattern stuff, and that it turned into scrupulosity/religious themed ocd later.
oh right, and being left home alone, or waking up home alone, was consistently terrifying and Rapture-anxiety-inducing. i would run around looking everywhere for dropped clothes and glasses and cavity fillings where my family evaporated from, leaving their earthly belongings behind with me because i wasn’t truly saved. just like the lectures and books and movies at church and in our church libraries.
and y’know, salvation-anxiety is itself a symptom of not being properly saved / surrendered to god, natch.
the church of god youth group was. a bad fit. it was aimed at troubled worldly teen outreach, and it would talk about sex and drugs and play videos of Grease to discuss, idk, how men are obsessed with sex? and it talked like being raised god-fearing wasn’t the norm, and about all these social concerns, not about the bible. it was terrifying and weird and didn’t really use verses or memorizing them so i couldn’t be good at it.
but it was useful to be able to invite UnSaved high school friends to church events (and get rewards for bringing the most non-christian friends), and know it was sort of aimed at them. we had our end-of-october costumed scavenger hunt (halloween is of the devil, and before this church, we would stay at home with all the lights out hiding in the darkness from the evil doorknockers – seriously).
seriously. i can’t even dredge up all the things, or fit them here.
i don’t think i can go into purity and pledges and puberty and no-dating-til-35 and school dances and “biblegirl” and mooing-as-censorship and being terrified of others’ motives and how my highschool sweetheart and i traded off doubting and berating each other back into the fold. but by my final year of high school i was a TA for sunday school at our third church, and acutely aware of how fake i felt, and scared of being asked my thoughts on god.
and then my first class in college was “the end times” which i thought would be awesome studying apocalypse myth but ended up feeling Super Anti-Christian and bringing up some really good points. then feminism through linguistics-and-gender class, then stumbling upon the lgbt center and *bing!*, then approaching different christian clubs and finding how slippery they felt, how dodging around questions and “the bible says” with zero acknowledgment of interpretation.
and right then, prop 8 and being heavily politicized the very month i came out, and email chains with my dad about biblical literalism and interpretation and the “inability” to be christian and non-cishet “without lying to yourself,” and reading watchmen and freaking out about order/chaos/patterns and subjectivity, and listening hard to myself and staying up til 4am chatting with people about the nature of life, and finally Deciding, Deciding, that i couldn’t believe in hell without twisting and hurting myself, and postponing everything else because well damn, that means i’m not christian anyway.
spiritual crisis, unitarian universalists, multifaith community full of weird assumptions and reliance on scripture i found patently offensive now, narrowly avoiding being disowned, constantly being aware that my parents believe i’m going to hell — heh, rather parallel to the present.
when i say fundamentalism, it’s tangled up still, with cult-but-mainstream. with seclusion and isolation, with authoritative interpretation-as-literal, with mandated evangelism and guilt for not doing enough, with inculcating religious fear and anxiety in children. with “the only interaction with nonbelievers should be conversion” and being incredibly fake/shallow in public spaces like school where forced to interact. with it being your entire life, and feeling uprooted and adrift and unable to pin anything down when things change. with all questions being referred back to the “literal.” with all doubt being a symptom of sin and evil and failure.
so i have a very hard time and visceral reaction with words like prayer, and Higher Power, and bless, and unity, and Truth.
i hope this is illustrative of where i’m coming from, what i’m still trying to unpack.
[edit: STILL REREADING DOA, still finding more things]