How to Recover from Fundamentalism
Goal: To outgrow fundamentalism
… to understand what happened to us psychologically in fundamentalism
… to understand how to get our lives back
… to become human again
A recovering fundamentalist, especially one born into the religion, might felt like a Martian coming to earth and trying to figure out what earth life is about and how to fit in. The task can be daunting.
How to recover from fundamentalism: that’s what this website is about. How do we recovering/doubting/questioning fundamentalists come to understand what we have come from and what we have been through? How do we outgrow the church (or other fundamentalist group), and how do we build a new life? How, in short, do we get from A to B, from fundamentalism to human life, from Mars to Earth? How do we nurture our freedom of thought and action? How do we find our core and protect it?
If you’re struggling with such thoughts, welcome, friend. There are lots of us who are on this journey, some farther along than others. You are not alone. At this site, my hand is stretched out to you. Come aboard. You are safe here.
No one is going to tell you what is right or wrong for you. That’s your decision, in your own time. You may stay in your church or you may leave, but if you spend time at this site, you hopefully will have a little different perspective and better understanding. Remind yourself that truth cannot be killed by investigation and that it is ok to question.
THE SCOPE OF THIS SELF-HELP WEBSITE:
Tips for understanding the psychology of what we’ve been through
Tips and action steps to outgrow fundamentalism and rebuild a life
Tips for romantic relationships and for living with fundamentalists
And throughout, to bear witness and to honor memory
“I have always maintained that the truth is best because it lets the past become clearer and the future better controlled.” – Nancy Segal, Someone Else’s Twin, p. 267. Sometimes the truth can be painful but necessary for growth.
This how to recover from fundamentalism website will address the allure of fundamentalism, reasons for leaving, how to build a human self, relationships, and how to relate to fundamentalist family members.
The home page is organized below as follows:
What are fundamentalism and evangelicalism?
Many types of fundamentalism
Self-help on the journey
Professional help for the journey
Getting from A to B, from fundamentalism to a healthy adult life
A word about the author of this site
A few caveats before we get started
The transition time
My experience in going it alone
Tips for working with the website
A big picture puzzle
A pep talk for the recovering reader
Comments for convinced fundamentalists
Acknowledging some benefits from fundamentalism
An invitation to recovering fundamentalists to share helpful tips
We are gifted.
DEFINITIONS: WHAT ARE FUNDAMENTALISM AND EVANGELICALISM?
“Fundamentalism,” according to Webster, refers to “a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.” Evangelicalism is another face of Protestant fundamentalism.
I think of evangelicalism as “the glass is half full,” while fundamentalism is “the glass is half empty.” Same glass. Evangelicalism has the smile, where fundamentalism has the frown. Evangelicalism may or may not extend itself to certain social justice issues.
When one has a fundamentalist point of view, anything contrary to a literally interpreted Bible is unacceptable. The world is seen as black-and-white, and people are divided into the white sheep and the black sheep, the believers and the non-believers. Many people are convinced and comforted with this simplistic sort of worldview. Others struggle with their faith and may outgrow their fundamentalist group.
MANY TYPES OF FUNDAMENTALISM
A person does not have to be part of the fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant movement to be a fundamentalist. An orthodox (many see as rigid), doctrinaire mindset can also be found in other “-isms,” such as (in alphabetical order) African religion, Alcoholics Anonymous (and other anonymous groups), atheism, Buddhism, Catholicism, charismatic religion, Christian Science, communism, cults of many types, evangelicalism, Hinduism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judaism, Mormonism, New Age, Pentecostalism, political ideologies and personality cults, Pentecostalism, psychological ideology from Jung or Freud or others, Scientology, Sufiism, Tea Partiers, Transactional Analysis, various other cults, or you name it.
Persons who see themselves as irreligious can also have a rigid fundamentalist mindset, such as with focused adherence to a type of psychology, a certain theory of explaining the world, a political system, dogmatic atheism, an orthodox or alternative medical approach, etc. Perhaps these individuals learned their habit of thought from a childhood fundamentalist church. They may have “layered” another mindset onto the pre-existing rigid framework of their youth.
Fundamentalists can be delightful, kind, and considerate but nevertheless unyielding in their belief system. Given a choice between you and their faith, their faith gets their loyalty. To choose otherwise would be for them disobedience to God. The fact that you may be their son or daughter does not change this.
The conservative, fundamentalist mindset, wherever it is found, has commonalities regardless of the “flavor” of the fundamentalist belief system. Recovery from Protestant fundamentalism is similar to recovery from Catholic fundamentalism and from Jewish Orthodoxy or Hasidism, from Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist fundamentalism, from cultist beliefs, from psychological or political ideology, etc.
[“Ideology: a set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.” – The Week magazine, June 1, 2012, p. 40]
However, when the fear of dire eternal consequences is thrown in – plus an emphasis on one’s need for personal salvation – or when healings and ecstatic experiences are in the mix – the leaving can be much more highly charged. Further, if one is part of an extended, patriarchal family and community structure, leaving can be heartbreaking, if not downright dangerous.
Elizabeth Warren wrote about those who had no family support system during tough financial times:
“People who didn’t have family or people who broke from their family – they were the true poor, they were the ones with nothing. As long as you had family, you had people who would make sure that you got fed one way or another. Family was about canning peaches, and canning peaches was about making sure that there’d at least be something come next November, when it was cold outside and there were no more crops coming in. Family is the heart of what it’s about.” (quoted in Political Awakenings, by Harry Kreisler, p. 32)
Family support?? Many of us lose our families when we outgrow fundamentalism. Oh, our families might give us the canned peaches, the necessities for survival, but they couldn’t listen to us, honor our journeys, or be there for us emotionally. Their religion separates them from us. If no one listens to us, we may feel invisible.
Let a fundamentalist decide that the religion isn’t working for him or her and determine to leave, then he or she might discover that there are “few things as important, or as fragile, as knowing who we are and to whom we belong.” (Segal, p. 261). Where one was known, now one is an unknown. The “family” to which one really belongs (the human family in the world outside) is also unknown at the time of leaving. Personal disorientation can be profound. There is more than enough suffering to go all around…not only for the person leaving, but also for the fundamentalist family members.
A TV documentary on the Amish pictured a young Amish lad who had left his community. He lived in a cheerless bachelor apartment, knowing that back at the family home there was an empty chair and a place set for him at the dinner table. This website is written for that young man and the legion like him coming from fundamentalism.
There is a banquet outside in the larger world but we have to have eyes to see it and know how to connect. We have to know what we came from and be clear on why we left it, or chances are good that our emotions will be in a continual struggle. As peace of mind grows on this issue, we may find that we are inoculated against fundamentalism, that it has lost its draw and its power over us. Getting to peace of mind takes hard work for some of us, though.
An individual may struggle with doubts and guilt and blame and go round and round in circles for years. Or, that person may suppress those doubts and guilt and go on with life as best as possible. Suppression is no resolution, however.
Or, we might simply outgrow the fundamentalist experience that we have come from. Move on with life, even before officially leaving the fundamentalist group. Grow from being an adolescent in faith and emotions to a mature human being. We may or may not return to our former religious faith or even any form of spirituality (other than of the human spirit), but that’s a question for the future, not for now.
Outgrowing fundamentalism? That seems a mild way to describe the possible crashing of one’s faith, loss of one’s identity, and loss of one’s place in a tight-knit community and possibly in a fundamentalist family.
Nevertheless, the concept of outgrowing fundamentalism is, I think, a more natural approach – and a safer approach – than trying to bury issues and not think about them. If we outgrow fundamentalism, we will be less likely to have problems with repression, acting out, self-destructive behavior, and being stuck. Outgrowing fundamentalism is less threatening, because we don’t have to make changes until we are ready to make changes. Our own sense of timing is honored.
Is dealing with all the swirling emotions, doubts, and fears of an increasingly wobbly faith as simple as “outgrowing” a religion? Is rebuilding a life and coming back to one’s humanity simple? No, of course not, but the “outgrowing” orientation gives us a good place to start – a safe place, because we are empowered to grow in understanding and to keep on growing and to let things develop as they will. If you try to break a rope with your bare hands, you will fail. But you can break one strand at a time. A plant doesn’t spring full-grown from a seed. Growth is natural in nature, and we are part of nature. Growth is natural in us, too. We don’t have to fear the process. We can welcome it.
“Why did you leave the church?” my dad asked me, years later.
“I outgrew it,” I said simply.
He made no response.
SELF-HELP ON THE JOURNEY
This how to recover from fundamentalism website is a do-it-yourself site for personal understanding of the psychological journey we have been on as past or present fundamentalists. This website is the one I wish was available to me many years ago when I left the church I was brought up in.
I salute you wherever you are on this journey. Courage, imagination, and openness are required. You are a warrior.
Just be yourself, wherever you are on the belief spectrum, and keep growing in understanding and experience. You can always take another baby step on your journey. No one climbs a mountain in a single leap.
Here’s a quotation used at the front of M.K. Asante’s book, Buck:
“Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.” – Ovid
PROFESSIONAL HELP FOR THE JOURNEY
This website is not intended to replace professional counseling, if that is what is needed. Persons leaving their religion can suffer a great deal of trauma. I would like to recommend the well-written book by professional counselor and former Pentecostal fundamentalist, Marlene Winell, Leaving the Fold. In addition to this helpful book, Dr. Winell offers self-help exercises and a network of recovering fundamentalists who are coming to terms with their backgrounds and engaging in the healing process. For more information, click on “Marlene Winell.” I have no experience with Dr. Winell, other than having enjoyed her book.
Even local therapists who may be unfamiliar with the religious background you came from could nevertheless be helpful with common recovery issues such as the development of personal boundaries, recognizing your inner voice, dealing with issues of control and bullying, coming to trust your intuition, etc. I’d suggest looking for a secular therapist, or at least one from a different religious tradition than you are from.
GETTING FROM A TO B, FROM FUNDAMENTALISM TO HEALTHY ADULT LIFE
It’s easy to find stories of former fundamentalists. These stories typically go: “This is what I am from. These are some of the reasons I left.” Stories are fine. We each have our own – but aside from helping us to find other recovering fundamentalists with whom to identify and maybe commiserate, personal stories can be limiting and maybe a distraction.
I have always been more drawn to the concept of “tools.” What are the useful tools of understanding that can help us know where we came from and what its effects were psychologically and that can help us to know how to construct a good life?
When you leave fundamentalist religion, how do you get from A to B, from being a fundamentalist to leaving fundamentalism to growing into a free, happy adult human being? What does the process look like? Is there a process? Those are the questions that have interested me for a long time.
This website contains guidance to help you understand psychologically where you are now and what you were or are going through as you outgrow the fundamentalist mindset. Perhaps you already consider yourself a recovering fundamentalist and feel you’ve left the religion far behind. Even if you have left fundamentalism behind, you can still benefit from an insider perspective on a typical journey to freedom. Many, maybe most, fundamentalists leave without being sufficiently self-reflective about the process.
Other readers are still fundamentalists but are struggling with recurrent doubts. Perhaps you want something more but don’t know how to proceed, how to change, or even how to want to change. Spending time at this site will help you to understand, to define your questions, and to recognize answers. Again, don’t feel pressured to make decisions or come to conclusions before you are ready.
A WORD ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THIS SITE
As noted above, I am from an evangelical fundamentalist background and was deeply involved in the church and evangelizing organizations until my late twenties. The church I grew up and the evangelical college I attended were full of decent and good people. They were not religious crazies. Nevertheless, despite my best efforts to believe and follow what I believed that God wanted, the religion didn’t seem to work for me.
I blamed myself for the failures at the time, not the religious beliefs. In my late 20s, which was a long time ago, life experiences caused me to burn my bridges to the church. I thought at the time that I would spend some years outside the religion, learn what life was about, and then go back… but I never did go back. I have come to love life outside the church and to assess my former life in the church from a very different perspective.
After I left, I began to see a whole other aspect of the religion. What had appeared a love-based religion when I was in it began to look like a fear-based religion once I left….but I don’t want to get ahead of the story.
I also came to understand that the person I was in the church was not a psychologically healthy or mature person, despite experiencing the best that the evangelical faith had to offer. Further, I came to question how psychologically healthy some of the things I was taught in the religion really are. This website reflects the lessons of my journey out and onward to what I experience as a much healthier and happier life.
I should mention that I’m just a “Grandma Moses,” a layperson, without any psychological training. My life was the laboratory for experiment and observation. The lessons and suggestions contained in the website are from my experience and also reflect interactions with other former fundamentalists I have known.
My objective is no more than to extend a hand to recovering fundamentalists and even to fundamentalists with doubts. We’re part of a big club, the club of those who have a sense of malaise with fundamentalism and want the freedom to live our own lives. Fundamentalism casts a long shadow, and the sooner we can process our leaving, the better.
A FEW CAVEATS BEFORE WE GET STARTED
1. There is no religious agenda to this website. I have no alternative belief system to promote, nor do I attend any religious group regularly. My approach is purely psychological, i.e., what happened, how to understand what happened, how to leave the scene, and how to build a new and satisfying human life.
2. The word “God” will be avoided (except when quoting or addressing fundamentalists). “God” is a charged word. When I used to think of that word, a picture of my father would snap into my mind. For many, the term “God” may be associated with authoritarian or guilt- or fear-producing memories. My father, I should add, was a gentle and loving individual… but there still was the authoritarian connotation. He had a sign hanging in the garage: “Believe whatever you want, just remember you heard the truth here first.” In mind-control jargon, this would be an example of “power of suggestion,” i.e., “We have the truth, and you don’t. We are the white sheep. You are the black sheep.” You and I can come to recognize the seeds that were planted in us and process them, leaving them behind. We’ll talk more about this later. Many of us were so overloaded with religious terminology that our present need is to spend a great deal of time with our humanity.
Further, if we talk about “God,” for many readers the picture may get confusing. You don’t know who is doing something, you or God. We are trying to understand what happened to us psychologically and to reconstruct our human life. I recall the (now deceased) psychiatrist David Viscott, M.D., saying something like this to a long-ago radio caller, “The problem with introducing ‘God’ into the discussion is that you don’t know who’s doing something – you or God. You ARE saved. Don’t blow it.”
5. There is no offense meant to faith-based readers at this website.
Realize that this website is no more than human-sized. It is not a religious website and not a spiritually-inclined website. Your faith is your business, and belief or non-belief in a deity is simply not going to be addressed. You could be a Christian or an atheist and feel at home here, because we’ll be talking psychology, not religion. Even visiting fundamentalists may come to better understand themselves as human beings and therefore find the website helpful in their lives.
A friend says of himself, “I’m an agnostic, but then there’s the mystery.” I like that. You will not find me a fundamentalist (rigid) atheist. I consider myself an agnostic – but then there’s the mystery. I’ll leave it at that.
On the other hand, I warn you that there may be some rough sledding as you read. I am not neutral on the subject of fundamentalism. I have lived through too many hard things, and seen lives destroyed, because of fundamentalist beliefs. Maybe things like that don’t happen in your circle… but they did in my life and in my family and in the lives of many fundamentalists I have known. I could tell you stories, some tragic.
I had to step back and ask, “Is there something about the religious beliefs themselves that contributes to these unhappy results?” Too often the answer for me was, “Yes.”
THE TRANSITION TIME…
I still thought in terms of belief in a personal deity for years after leaving the fundamentalist church. I don’t know how I would have responded to a website that started and ended with my humanness. I might not have been ready for it, but speaking from my experience, I encourage you to hang in there. It’s important for you to understand this stuff, whether or not you believe in a deity, because this is about your life, as it is about mine.
Hopefully readers will have the courage to face their human self straight on to see what might be learned. And when they return from their study, they may see themselves in a new light and be happier for the journey.
If you come back to this website periodically, you may see things that you missed previously, maybe because you weren’t ready for them before. That’s the nature of growth. Here, I am in essence sharing my growth with you. Together we can continue to grow.
MY EXPERIENCE GOING IT ALONE
If there had been a resource like this when I was leaving the church almost four decades ago, I believe that my path would have been ever so much easier. I would have understood much more and very possibly been spared some hard experiences. There was no such resource though. It was 20 years before I met another recovering fundamentalist. I had to learn as I went. I continually tried to understand and put the pieces together for what life was about. Even with that, I experienced a great deal of the long shadow that fundamentalism casts, even decades after leaving the church.
TIPS FOR WORKING WITH THE WEBSITE
This website is not intended to be read like a book. Each reflection or tip represents a span of time – maybe even a lesson lasting a long time. Each reflection is an invitation to you to stop and compare your own journey. Do you have an example from your life that is similar to what I write? Does what I write help you to understand something that you might be struggling with now?
Maybe you aren’t even aware of the core issue that a particular reflection reveals. Sometimes we need more life experience before we can appreciate a lesson.
Growth can be seen as our minds connecting various ideas and experiences and drawing conclusions from them. You may find that ideas and experiences in your life resonate with some that I have had. These ideas and experiences can be building blocks for the next steps of growth.
These evolving insights reflect a similar journey for individuals coming out of an orthodox or doctrinaire belief system. Maybe you won’t relate to each and every one of the reflections and maybe you will have some lessons that I am not yet aware of or that would be more relevant to your present or former faith community. We’re nevertheless from similar tribes and speak similar tongues. We can learn from each other. Our lessons and insights can help speed up the journey to personal freedom for ourselves and for others.
Some readers face additional issues in leaving the church, such as being gay, or having had an abortion, or struggling with an addiction. The Resources section of the website contains some titles but invites your suggestions with books and other resources, with tips from your journey, for what you found helpful with these special issues. Please forward your suggestions to me at email@example.com.
A BIG PICTURE PUZZLE
You may find that coming to understand life outside of orthodox religion is like putting together a big puzzle. You continually come to new understandings, insights, and knowledge and absorb them into the overall puzzle. You also learn new ways of viewing the world… essentially reconstructing your self in terms of your new values and insights, which often are built on a more mature understanding of former values and insights.
Does working on your puzzle mean that you are rebelling against a deity? No way. It just means that you are growing up as a person and growing in your understanding – that is, using the brains the “good Lord gave you.” Later, if you opt to continue with your religion or leave it, you will be better positioned to make an adult decision. This might be a good time to read James Fowler’s Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning to gauge what stage of faith you are on. You might also take the Belief-O-Matic™ quiz at www.beliefnet.com, which might provide insight for where you are at this moment in time.
But hang loose. Don’t feel that you have to label yourself as this or that, or make any immediate decisions. Just keep growing, and decisions will make themselves in their own good time. You may indeed simply “outgrow” fundamentalism as you journey down your road – or you may stay in the religion but come to appreciate your human nature more.
A PEP TALK FOR THE RECOVERING FUNDAMENTALIST
The days coming out of fundamentalism often are bleak, but what you are going through can be a springboard for growth. Insights and tools offered here will help you to understand and deal with issues as they come up. You don’t have to be afraid or feel guilty. You can have your life and your future back… maybe for the first time. Be patient.
I too walked the road to recovery, and many times I repeated to myself, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Even on the darkest days, I could always keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t be discouraged if it sometimes seems like one step forward and two back. Just maintain forward motion.
I remember a friend telling me during some dark days after leaving my church, “Being with you is like being with death.” That was a long time ago, during a time of knowing that the past wasn’t working for me and when I didn’t know how to put the pieces together for the present, let alone envision a future.
Eventually, I came to understand better what I had been through psychologically and assembled tools to help shorten the recovery process. I learned that being in touch with reality was more satisfying and happier in different ways than the church years had been for me…and sometimes sadder, but that’s life. I’d rather be in touch with reality. How about you?
I came to know that I could own my own life, that I could look about me with my own perspective and not feel obliged to view everything through a grid that had been imprinted on my consciousness. Eventually I came to appreciate the freedom to be, to think and feel my own thoughts and feelings, to take in information from the environment and process it myself instead of relating everything to church teachings or the Bible or “God’s will.” I came to appreciate that I could build on life experiences.
This struggle wasn’t at all easy. I tend to be a slow learner and a slow verbalizer and for a long time, I was pretty isolated. I got into experiences that were difficult but taught their own valuable lessons. I learned that some lessons are like way-stations on the path, that is, those lessons have to be balanced out in larger lessons down the road.
For example, coming from the loneliness I felt in the evangelical church, one of my first “new” insights was that I wanted to be with people without an evangelical mindset imposed between us. The word “with” became my favorite word. Later on, after “with” got me into various types of trouble, I learned that “withness” has to be balanced with other things…such as common sense and a rational approach to life, a love of facts, an orientation toward growth and service, “street smarts,” and a sense of my own inner compass. Still later, I added to this lesson the word “respect.” Did I respect the other person I was with? Did he or she respect me? Were my actions worthy of respect?
To me, this example of my “withness” evolution is an example of the long shadow that fundamentalism casts. Lessons may extend over years and decades. My journey was from the isolation I found within fundamentalism to reaching out for what seemed the antidote, only to find that the antidote was incomplete, and that I had to travel further in understanding before finding a more complete and satisfying place to be.
Since childhood, I’ve had a desire to understand. I’ve had to travel down roads that may seem self-evident to you, as you left fundamentalism. If so, good for you. You have been spared, or you think you have been. On the other hand, there will be readers who identify deeply with this or that thought or issue, perhaps finding a key that leads to the breaking up of a roadblock within themselves. Know that as I write these words, I have you in mind and wish you growth and connection with your inner self on the journey.
Also bear in mind that what I am writing covers decades of life experience, starting outside the fundamentalist church, being brought in to the fundamentalist church as a young child, getting converted, graduating from an evangelical college, working in evangelizing organizations, leaving the religion in my late 20s, interacting with fundamentalist parents over the next 40 years, experiencing all sorts of life experiences and relationships, and through it all, growing in understanding.
In this website, I am consolidating decades of lessons. At various times in my life, I would not have had sufficient growth within me to be able to fully appreciate and incorporate some of these lessons. You will likely experience the same thing. What catches your attention today as you go through sections of the website may be steppingstones for more insights down the road. We have been through some heavy stuff. Don’t minimize it.
Your experiences will be different from mine. I caution you not to listen for details but to listen for ideas. The similarities are in the ideas and outcomes. It’s not the stories that are important but how to understand the stories.
Here is a nugget for you that took eons for me to understand: A fundamentalist first has to want something better… to discover life within and to listen to his or her own intuitive inner voice. Do you want something better? Wanting something better is an essential first step. Sit with that for a few moments. Can you relate to wanting something better? If not, what DO you want?
Honor your self. Listen to your inner voice. Grow in understanding. Maintain forward motion. Learn more about what life is about. Experience life. Act. It’s easier to change direction with an object in motion than with one at rest.
COMMENTS FOR CONVINCED FUNDAMENTALISTS
I’m sure that if I were reading through this how-to-recover-from-fundamentalism website as an evangelical believer, I would have read for what I thought was wrong with it and totally missed the positive points and the challenging ideas.
I’d be sure that the author was on the wrong track, that she is a backslider, that she couldn’t have known Jesus to begin with, that she needs to be saved, that she is leading vulnerable people astray and encouraging them to look at humans instead of at God, and that I should pray for her and write to her to share my faith and my Lord.
For fundamentalist and evangelical readers who are tempted to write, please believe that I know every thing already that you might say to me. I was in your shoes once. I know exactly what you would have “on your heart” to say, because I too said those words to others long ago. In fact, one recipient of such a letter compared me to a demolition expert, or was it a steam roller? I forget.
Nevertheless, I recognize that you would write out of concern for my soul and wish to spare you the effort. Be at peace regarding me, as I am regarding you. Hold me in the light, as the Quakers say. Remember that truth cannot be killed by investigation …and sometimes we’re not as smart as we think we are, on both sides of the question. A little humility can go a long ways.
Time is very limited for me, and I do not have the time or energy to deal with letters from fundamentalists who feel burdened to share their testimonies. My focus is to share with those who feel fundamentalism is not working for them, not to offer myself as a “mission field” to convinced evangelicals or other varieties of fundamentalists. Thank you for understanding this.
This site is for those who want something different from what they have now. We see life differently than you do. We’ve heard all the words you might say to try to draw us back to your church and your God. We ask you to please, just go on with your lives and leave us to do the same. We don’t mean to insult you with some of the things written in this website. We are just trying to make sense of how we experienced some of your teachings and religious institutions. It wasn’t all roses for us.
We understand that your worldview makes perfect sense to you and is satisfying to you. We are not trying to change you, but we have to be honest, too, that there are things in your teachings that we have lost respect for. This is just the way it is, and we are coming to understand why we feel as we do. “Religious tolerance” isn’t our interest. We have seen too much of the harmful side of religious belief. We ask no more of you than to be left in peace.
ACKNOWLEDGING SOME BENEFITS FROM FUNDAMENTALISM
That said, many of us acknowledge good having come from our fundamentalist days. Fundamentalism helped us learn discipline and deepened us. Fundamentalism primed us to consider what life is about, about values and purposes. We learned to think of others (even if much of it was out of fear for their souls or from praying for them). Fundamentalism presented examples of compassion in action. It helped us take relationships more seriously. As one friend remarked, her church’s teachings kept her from the “grubby hands of teenage boys.” We learned, too, about loyalty and steadfastness. We learned to put our lives behind our words and to be serious-minded.
The fundamentalist worldview was my classroom, and I learned much under its tutelage. A good part of who I am today reflects values from fundamentalism. Despite that, even the “good stuff” in fundamentalism to me has a dark side. I came to understand that I can find similar “good stuff” in myself and in humanist values…without the religious dark side.
Is it better for me to have been brought up in fundamentalism, even though it cost me a great deal throughout my life, or to have been a drug addict on the streets? Or struggling financially as an unmarried teenage mother? These are hard questions. For some people, it would be a no-brainer to choose fundamentalism. Others would choose freedom of the mind, even though it is fraught with difficult choices and dangers.
Of course, to me the better plan by far would be to be brought up by loving parents with humanist values. I attended a youth service at a Unitarian church and grew misty-eyed as I witnessed the level of awareness and the service orientation of the youth as compared with myself at their age.
So, despite coming to see some benefits from fundamentalism, for any number of reasons, I came to yearn for other things that I don’t expect fundamentalists to understand…to be able to enjoy a bird’s song without thanking a deity for it, to be able to smile into a baby’s face without wanting that baby dedicated to a deity, to own my own life. To a fundamentalist, those would be sinful, prideful things. I do not ask fundamentalist readers to accept or condone my perspective – just to live and let live.
Yet even as I speak those words, I know that their religion probably won’t allow them to do that. They will have to pass judgment on me, to apply their fundamentalist ruler and find that I come up short. Well, we do the best we can with the insight we have. There are some worldviews that can’t mesh. Let’s try to avoid violence and work together where we can on common projects, such caring for all humans, trying to get off fossil fuel and sustain the earth, working against cruelty to other species, cooperating on issues that face our country and world, and so on.
Listen to these words of Jonathan Haidt:
“We all get sucked into tribal moral communities and enmeshed in their narratives. Morality binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depends on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact, so often denied in today’s politics, that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” – from The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt, 2012 – quoted in “The Week publication,” June 1, 2012.
AN INVITATION TO RECOVERING FUNDAMENTALISTS TO SHARE HELPFUL TIPS
We each have our own path and our own lessons, but we can also help one another. I would be happy to consider suggestions and comments for this website, making it more helpful to readers in recovery. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because of time constraints, I regret that I probably will not be able to respond to letters. I see my contribution as doing the legwork and maintaining the website and then going on with my life with a smile for you. I am thankful for you and for how you are growing and loving and contributing to a better world.
On this path, you are a pioneer and a warrior, and I applaud those who are facing hard questions and have the courage to want something better and to do the hard work of changing. Know that you are not alone.
WE ARE GIFTED
To come from one world and inhabit another world places us in a unique position. We are exposed to two sets of values and by assessing the best of each and listening to our inner voice, we can develop our own value system. We can also learn from the bad examples in each. Our job is to have the strength and presence of mind to realize this gift and to act on it.
The cover of the New York Times Magazine section during the Cold War showed a head on the left side of the page hitting against a wall. The title was “The Artist in Russia.” The head on the right side was falling apart, with no wall and the title, “The Artist in America.”
We are the artists in the former Soviet Union, fortunate to have a hard wall to bang our heads against – which makes our heads strong. As with real artists in the Soviet Union, we can know the forces against which we struggle, and we can appreciate the fresh air of freedom.
Hear the words of Malcolm Gladwell:
“Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” – from his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, p. 267.
Now … let’s you and I get to work!
To get started, click on the tab labeled “Leaving Fundamentalism.”
CONTACT: dierdre at howtorecoverfromfundamentalism.com – for recovering fundamentalists only, please. Time is very limited for replies, so brief emails would be appreciated.