“The more you learn, the less you fear.” Author Julian Barnes, quoted in The Boston Globe.
Included in this tab:
- Tips for growing a self
- Choosing a counselor
- Trust your motivations
TIPS FOR GROWING A SELF
How do you get from A to B, from the fundamentalist mindset to freedom? Here tips for growing a self. Some will build on previous suggestions. Can you think of any to add from your experience?
Want something more than you have.
The crucial step is to recognize that you want something more, something better, something different than you know from fundamentalism. If you think that you are fine the way you are, that’s that. You won’t change. You don’t think you have a need to change. This web site is for those who want more.
What “more” might you want? Here are some suggestions:
- Freedom to think your own thoughts
- Freedom to learn how the world works outside of religion
- Freedom to follow your inner voice and not always be trying to conform to what you are told
- Freedom to choose for your own life
- Freedom to examine fundamentalism critically
- Freedom to have relationships with other people without religion being in the middle
- Freedom to own your own emotions
- Freedom to find your own dreams
- Freedom to know that you exist as a person
- Freedom to grow to your fullest human potential
Continue to learn to recognize and develop your inner voice, such as described in the previous section with the Action Board.
Use a prompt, such as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (do a search to get a copy), to link with some perhaps forgotten aspects of your inner voice. As an exercise, think of examples to connect each item on the list with your inner values. If you can’t relate to some of them, at least being conscious of them will be beneficial.
I recall reading that the British writer G.K. Chesterton remarked that the concept of justice is a tough one for Christians to relate to. Of course considerations of justice would be foreign if one’s mind was tied up with prophecies and Armageddon. You may draw a blank when it comes to justice. That’s ok. That’s where you are right now. You can’t be somewhere that you’re not. Eventually, you might get close to someone who is experiencing injustice. That person’s experience might be your classroom for “justice.” Or you might read a book about someone’s experience with injustice. Another classroom.
Learning about justice is putting yourself in another’s shoes. These days with the huge and growing gap between the rich and the poor and the worldwide implications of Climate Change, there are many people suffering from injustice.
Continue to build the foundation of your life.
What building blocks will be in it? Will one of the blocks be the desire for freedom to think your own thoughts? What are your values?
Recently an elderly widower gave me a copy of the obituary for his deceased wife. I asked him how they met, and his response was that they both had worked at a labor union office. Over the months they worked together, he had a chance to observe her as a co-worker. From his observations, he concluded that she was a remarkable woman, someone he would like to spend his time with… and he ended up spending 40 years with her. He said that she was beautiful both outside and inside.
What were this man’s building blocks for the foundation of his life? He valued love and justice, and he was drawn to someone who had similar values. He had a building block of caution and observation which helped him to see the woman was steady, giving, and went out of her way to help clients.
He knew before he asked her out that they shared important building blocks. He knew this with his mind through observation, with his heart through seeing how she cared about others, and with his body through a physical attraction to her. To him, she was beautiful. His inner voice (which was unified with his value system) said to him, “Go for it!” And not being passive, he did. He knew what he wanted, and he acted. And she, being integrated within herself recognized in him that he was also someone with whom she would like to spend her time, and eventually her life. They had similar inner compasses.
How does his attitude and his approach stack up with how some of your past relationships started? What do you think about “love at first sight”? Do you think that if you were conscious of valuable building blocks that you might be more in control of your life and less apt to start a relationship that had red flags all over it? (Too bad that I didn’t have someone to spell this out to ME when I first left fundamentalism!!!) We ex-fundies can tend to be clueless, you know? What’s the definition of “tragedy”? “It has to be, and it isn’t.”
Suppose that you don’t have the opportunity to observe another person day after day? Then, you go slowly until you are clear about the person’s value system and foundation for life. You keep a calm head. You use life-experience questions to draw the person out, “That’s interesting. I’m just trying to understand you. Why did you say that? What makes you feel that…?” Follow the action, or lack of same. Observe them in social settings. Distinguish between whether the person wants you or needs you. Is the person stable?
Develop personal boundaries.
Boundaries relate to what you will allow in your life and what you will not allow. If you meet a woman for a first date and she arrives with an overnight bag, you might realize in a flash that she is not who you thought she was. You might calmly say, “You won’t be needing that,” or just ignore it and take your leave at a reasonable time. That’s your boundary, that you honor your body and want to respect the other individual. You don’t care for shallow sexual liaisons.
Personal boundaries come into play with levels of friendship. With some friends, you are comfortable sharing more than you would with others.
We former fundies for the most part lacked an experience of personal boundaries. Our “souls” were fair game for evangelizing. There are books available on boundaries. Developing personal boundaries is a common topic in counseling.
Be your own mentor. Take charge of your education.
You might consider subscribing to a newspaper or magazine covering world news – such as The Week (which is fun to read and has short articles with world and national news, news of people and the arts, book reviews, etc.), or The Christian Science Monitor, The NY Times, etc. Check out rt.com and Al Jazeera on-line. Check out the Pacifica network of listener supported radio. Subscribe to one or more alternative perspectives, such as The Progressive magazine, In These Times, or The Nation.
Check in weekends at CSpan 2 for interviews with authors on a wide variety of subjects. Do a search for “Chris Hedges” and listen to his CSpan 2 interview. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School and had his life honed both from working in a poverty area and then from being a war correspondent. When asked by the CSpan interviewer whether he considered himself a Christian, he hesitated and then said that he wouldn’t be considered as such by many churches. I gathered that he related to the Sermon on the Mount and still was a man of faith.
Read some psychology books, such as by Carl Rogers, or books on boundaries, on deprogramming or brainwashing.
Check out cultural books, such as teaching yourself art or music appreciation. Look into the audio offerings of Modern Scholar, The Great Courses (www.thegreatcourses.com), Barnes & Noble’s www.learnoutloud.com, or free sources, such as Open Yale (oyc.yale.edu). Check out your local library for new non-fiction books and CDs/DVDs. Review science periodicals, such as Science Magazine, or read one of the numerous books on climate change. Have your eyes opened through reading something like Toxin Toxout – Getting Harmful Chemicals out of our Bodies and our World, by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith, and MK Asante’s Buck – A Memoir.
Read biography for examples of how humans live their lives. A friend who brings back four books at a time from the library told me that he always includes one biography. Read about the historical criticism of the bible and other books critiquing what you have come from. See Resources for some suggestions.
This is the time for some basic broadening, time to expose yourself to what’s been going on in the world. Wander around in the library and see what jumps out at you. Read book reviews and see what appeals. Read some things that don’t appeal, too, because they all have something to say. Each book is an invitation to an adventure.
Get involved in experiences. Life experience comes from action, from interacting with people, from growing in other areas.
As an example of where involvement can lead, I’ll share a little of my experience in starting a short-term local committee comprised of public and private school educators on the topic of school choice. The committee members started reading and digging. We learned about powerful individuals aiming to destroy the public school system, and about pros and cons of voucher programs and private schools, charter schools, and cyber schools. We learned about the politics of No Child Left Behind and how it likely was set up to undermine public schools. We learned about how much money is at stake here. $500,000,000,000 is spent each year on education… and the sharks are circling. If they could get their hands on that money, it would be a guaranteed source of income for them.
We learned that we needed to know about the free market (One Market Under God, by Thomas Frank) and what groups are working together on the issue of privatizing public schools and how they are influencing politics. As we studied, we planned a public debate on the subject, along with a pre-debate session. Both were well attended, and the debate was televised.
After the debate, we sponsored a book discussion on The Life and Death of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch. The committee disbanded after this.
Let me pause here to ask if you realize what this example is showing. I didn’t have any particular thought about an education committee until I heard about certain legislation that was coming up for a vote and thought it might be interesting to learn about it. Some public school teachers joined me on a committee, and then my education started as I heard what they were telling me of conditions in their schools with budget cutbacks. We ended up with an impassioned committee and really had our eyes opened as to the backroom maneuvers on the part of those who want to do away with public schools. We learned of the role of religious fundamentalism. To learn more, go to www.talk2action.org and look up Rachel Tabachnick’s articles.
In other words, one thing led to another to another to another. Start somewhere and go from there. As part of that committee, I have more questions to explore than I had when I started it and knew hardly anything about the subject of privatizing public schools. In fact, I was incredulous when I first heard that there are strong forces out there working to do away with public schools.
I learned more by reading two books (Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System and Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer). I have two more books to read recommended by one of the “con” members on the debate panel. These books support the privatization of the public school system and I’m sure will expand my consciousness and my understanding even more. I’d list them here but first have to figure out what I did with the books. Sorry! We committee members benefited the most from our involvement with this subject.
Some months after this committee disbanded, I spoke with a woman who is a substitute teacher in a city school system. What she told me was hair-raising, and I knew that if I were one of those parents, I would want my child out of that school system where, as this woman related, a special school succeeding with kids who had discipline problems was closed because of budget cut-backs, and those kids were put back in regular classes.
She also said that because of budget cut-backs, the numbers of students in a classroom were pushing 40, beyond what teachers can successfully handle. Are state budget cuts undermining inner city schools? Is this another back-door pressure to privatize education? A lot of questions exist but for the parent, the bottom line might be: “I want my kid out of there and into a good school.” But as we learned, school choice is on the part of the school, not the parent.
One of my friends wrote that she hoped I would be “sand in the wheels of government” when I took a county job long ago. It seems sometimes that whatever area we explore, we can find controversy if we try to do the right thing. We can be that sand.
What are you involved with where you can increase your life experience? How much mileage can you get out of what you are involved with? Think of the topics that the education committee touched on – current politics, the power politics of the religious right and ALEC (the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council), the definition of education, what parents need to know about school choice, free market fundamentalism, questions about lack of government regulation in reining in capitalism, inspiring kids to love reading, the 99% movement, how to teach students critical thinking, how to arm parents for change… all those questions, from just our short-term committee. Do you think I’m a little smarter now, with a little more life experience in multiple important areas? You bet. You can do that, too. An experience like this helps us to define who we are. It’s called growth. The mind networks life experiences.
Further, if you had been involved on such a committee, imagine all the discussions you could get into afterwards. Many people are interested in the topic of education. You would have a topic to talk about that has significance.
If we chose subjects (such as the school voucher issue) that take us out of ourselves, we will be more attuned to the world outside. After years of naval-gazing and seeing the world only as a mission field, we could stand a hefty dose of exposure to the world outside. The subjects we could get involved with are endless… from Save the Whales, to climate change activities, to why-doesn’t-the-governor-go-after-the-child-pornography-web sites-that-have-been-reported-to-him? Then there’s the inhumanity of factory farms, veterans’ justice issues, the homeless, issues relating to autism, the broken prison system, on and on.
One thing that was eye-opening to our education committee was how very many groups are involved in advocating for education and for children. There are so many good people out there, and as we get involved in working in any of these areas, we’ll be rubbing elbows with them. Decent, involved, caring people – the type of people who would make good friends, the type of people we’d like to spend time with. If we want to meet the “good, good people” (as Toni Morrison calls them in her novel, Beloved), we have to get out there and participate in constructive activities, because that’s where they are – not home watching television.
Broadening your horizons is necessary, but so is the development of an inner compass.
Ultimately, the more experience you have and the more you learn about the world and yourself, you may find that you incline towards some goal that turns you on, for which you feel passion. This may be reflective of the core of your inner compass.
I mentioned before that a good part of my inner compass, from childhood, was to understand, to understand life. The quest to understand, even back then, helped to save my sanity and give me hope and still drives me today in the books I read and the movies I see. If I didn’t have a drive to understand, you wouldn’t be reading this web site today.
(Where did those genes come from? I like to think that among my ancestors, who knows how far back, there were people like me, people I would have loved. I can skip the fundamentalist generation and go back to my ancestors. I know that I belonged in a human family at one time, without a fundamentalist church in the middle of the mix.)
Another part of what I read has to do with deepening my appreciation for life itself, be it through music and art appreciation, science and literature, etc.
I had an amazing experience a few months ago in attending a concert by Itzhak Perlman playing Beethoven’s Symphony #5 for violin. Since Perlman was closing his eyes, I thought I listen with my eyes shut. All of sudden I was transported to a beautiful place…like a garden of Eden, without poverty and Climate Change and sadness… My eyes filled up, and I would have been bawling in the audience if I didn’t open them. I tried closing my eyes a few times after that, and the same thing happened each time. Finally I just kept them open but determined that I would listen to Beethoven in my own living room, with my eyes shut. What is this power of beautiful music to transport?
In contrast to learning something that brings progress, I could instead sit and read one mystery story after another if I liked mysteries… or even watch one sports program after another or get sucked in by so-called reality TV. What would be the direction of growth in those activities? Unless I was a mystery writer and trying to hone my craft by learning from other writers, or unless I was an athlete wanting to learn from watching games, I wouldn’t be maintaining forward motion… not that there shouldn’t be room for relaxation and enjoyment, too. Regarding reality TV, it’s a sham and a travesty of real life. Talk about not having boundaries and a sense of personal dignity….
What is of ultimate concern to you? How do you apply your energies and your time to fostering and protecting your inner core, your passion? How are you maintaining forward motion?
If you don’t relate to any inner passion at this time, get involved with something. If that runs its course, try something else. Think in terms of worthy endeavors. Maybe the worthy endeavor for now would be to study – oh – say, brainwashing and relate it to your experience in fundamentalism. Or maybe you would get involved in an environmental issue, such as learning about (and associating with an advocacy group on) natural gas fracking or tar sands oil extraction. Maintain forward motion.
Ultimately, development of your own inner compass is where you’re headed. Besides helping us to develop and recognize purposes for our lives, that sense of inner compass helps us in recognizing kindred spirits.
Frequently we are faced with decisions. What are some skills for decision-making?
I read a slim book long ago about how to make a decision. The (forgotten) author of This One Thing I Know wrote her experiences about coming to terms with the fact that her new husband liked nudist camps and she did not. She used that area of disagreement as fodder for thinking through how to make a decision.
Her concept for decision-making was to write down all the options and then to work through any blockages within one’s self regarding any of the options. When one is at peace with all the options, do nothing. Let one’s inner voice speak at the right time regarding what is the right decision. In her case, she ultimately divorced her husband.
To summarize, when faced with a decision: List all options. Be willing to go with each of the options. Do nothing. Let your inner voice speak.
(As an aside, I went to Amazon to see if I could locate the author’s name. I couldn’t, but a book that came up during the search sounded intriguing: The One-Straw Revolution – An Introduction to Natural Farming, by Masonobu Fukuoka. The write-up looked good, and I like the man who wrote the Preface, Wendell Berry. I put that book on my wish list. As the middle class dwindles in this country, maybe we’d better learn about growing our own food again. This stumbling on a book title that appeals is how a happenstance can open up a whole other area of exploration and growth.)
Byron Katie’s 4 questions are a useful tool. (www.theWork.com)
Byron Katie (“Katie”) presents a series of four questions, known collectively as “Inquiry,” which is a tool for gaining release from thoughts that can cause suffering. Her four questions open up one’s mind to other possibilities, reducing the hold of the original thought. Here’s how the questions would work when being tempted by a power-of-suggestion sign at a church.
Situation: I see a church sign stating that “God wants to be my best friend.” Suddenly I feel bereft, like in choosing the path I have taken, I have lost the possibility of an inner best friend. I have lost my invisible friend. I think of Pascal’s statement that a human has a God-shaped hole in her heart and will not find rest until she rests in God. I start to feel overwhelmed.
I stop and journal Katie’s 4 questions (described at www.theWork.com). Here’s what my journal entry might look like:
State your thought: God wants to be my best friend.
Can you absolutely know that it’s true that God wants to be your best friend?
Response: No, I cannot absolutely know that. I don’t even know that there is a god, actually, but I still feel I want an inner friend, somebody to talk/pray to, to have a running conversation with, someone who cares about me and is always in my corner, who offers me a safe harbor, and who forgives me and gives me unconditional love.
Who would you be without the thought that God wants to be your best friend?
Response: I think I’d grow up more. I’d feel more myself. I’d be more responsible for myself. I wouldn’t be tempted to think like a little child with her invisible friend. I wouldn’t be so passive, wanting to share with a being who gave unconditional love and told me that even if I were the only person on earth, he’d still send his son to die for me. I’d be more active, more like an adult.
Now turn-around the thought that God wants to be your best friend, and (where possible) give 2 examples for each turn-around. (A “turn-around” means playing with the words, changing one word, as in “God wants to be my best friend. God doesn’t want to be my best friend.”)
God doesn’t want to be my best friend.
Response: For openers, I don’t think a god exists even though the sign at the church gripped me at first. I guess it pressed one of my buttons that I didn’t realize was still there. I am glad to have that button as an invitation to growth. Second, if God exists, surely there are much more important things in the world for God to pay attention to than my childlike wishes for an invisible best friend. Maybe God would be turned off by my weakness and sentimentality, instead thinking that I should be out there helping others, growing to my full human potential, making my contribution. I can’t help but think that the desire for an inner best friend is a childish desire, not one for an adult, which is what I am striving to be.
Note: Some readers may take exception to this rendition. Perhaps, for them, a deity is the “ground of all being,” which gives impetus to being an adult human being. Fine, but this run-through is not about them. If I were to go through these four questions on this topic a year from now, perhaps I’d phrase my thoughts differently. Letting it all “hang loose” is key to getting to the bottom of our most charged thoughts and feelings, so that we can move on from there. Katie said that she had to journal and to apply Inquiry for several years before she came to terms with her mother but finally she did.
Good. Now another turn-around?
I want to be my best friend.
Response: That’s true. I want to look to myself, not to some authority figure out there or in my heart. I want to have a sense of coming home to myself, of sheltering the young child that was me. If I am my best friend, I can be an adult. I have my life back. I can enjoy being myself. I can act, instead of passively waiting for an invisible “best friend” to speak or to prompt. I can be rational instead of superstitious.
And that, dear reader, is how it works. Applying the four questions and the turn-arounds is not meant to change you. It is only a tool to help open up your thinking, so that you are not trapped in your thoughts. Address these questions and turn-arounds mindfully, with pauses to take thoughts in, not as an intellectualized mind-trip. Journaling the four questions gives you something to do during times of feeling overwhelmed. You can make progress and maintain forward motion, even while not running from or fearing the crazy moments but rather welcoming them for the growth opportunities they present.
Let’s apply the four questions to another thought leading from the same example: “There is a god-shaped hole in my heart.”
Is this true?
Response: I don’t know. It feels that way sometimes.
Who would you be without the thought that there is a god-shaped hole in your heart?Response: I would own myself. I would feel complete in myself.
Now do the turn-arounds:
“There isn’t a god-shaped hole in my heart.” I recognize the “god-shaped hole” as a control mechanism, an example of power of suggestion, one that, once understood, I can outgrow. I don’t any longer have to be led around by a god-shaped ring in my nose.
“There is a me-shaped hole in my heart.” I can own myself and be at home with myself. I can discover the satisfactions within my own life and not have to look outside for completion.
Again, these four questions and turn-arounds are no more than a tool for opening up your thinking. They are not a religion, not a system of belief. Nevertheless, they can help you open your life to increasing freedom and joy. Use them when they are useful, such as when you feel your inner switchboard overloading. Inquiry can give you a way to go, to grow, and not to be stuck. You can give you back your control, through Inquiry. You may benefit from some of Katie’s CDs, such as Loving What Is and I Need Your Love – Is That True?
Here’s a caveat, though. In my opinion, “Inquiry” can get too big in our lives, even as it proves its usefulness. My concern is that Inquiry itself can lead to passivity and bliss. Inquiry comes out of Al-Anon where sometimes it seems that the blame is put on the family member rather than the family member holding the alcoholic to account.
I am not attracted to the whole 12-step family of programs, seeing them as an outgrowth of fundamentalism, despite the fact that they have helped many individuals. We former fundies got into trouble by admitting we had no strength in ourselves and needed to turn everything over to a higher power. We’ve been there, done that.
That said, nevertheless, I have found Inquiry helpful, though I might not get too deeply into it. I have my own sense of direction and don’t need that sense of direction watered down by “turn-arounds”. I’m more interested in addressing the realities of my world than in seeking my own bliss. Always with us recovering fundies, it pays to be cautious about even a good tool overshadowing our inner voices.
Cultivate your sense of inner listening.
You have a good, decent core, and your inner voice reflects the deep streams of life within you and gives you a sense of what is right for you on the path of growth. You can develop the ability to sit with something that is felt but not yet clear. I think of this sense as intuitive, different from a thought or an emotion, but nevertheless holistic, encompassing thoughts and emotions.
Our bodies are made of energy. All of life is energy. You can sense when the energy is right viscerally, before you know it intellectually.
You can tune in to this energy sitting out in nature or in your recliner at home. When I first went to a silent Quaker meeting, I sensed the calming energy as soon as I walked into the meeting room, the sense of “holy expectation,” as the Quakers say. My life was very busy, and this hour at the Meeting house was an oasis. It wasn’t long, though, before I realized that inner peace was with me all week. The silent hour of the Quakers introduced me to what was within me already, just not consciously named and recognized.
I did love that silent hour of listening…listening to one’s inner voice and to others, as they shared. Though silent, the hour was not one of meditation. While many people are convinced of the value of meditation, I’ve never been attracted to it. It seems like too much work. I’d rather sit alone in silence or in communal silence, where one person or another may share a thought. I usually feel energized by this silence, ready to go forth in action mode, but sometimes I’m not in the mood and would rather be doing something else.
That said, my “Quaker” phase passed, as did the Unitarian phase. Now I don’t regularly attend anywhere. I guess my personality is not that of someone comfortable for too long with organized religion, even the most liberal, but I still participate in events/groups at both communities and know folk in both.
Think about connecting with a supportive community if you feel that would be helpful at this time in your life.
As I said, one of the communities I attended on and off was the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Quaker meetings in big cities, especially on the East Coast, often are more progressive than in conservative communities. In a conservative area, you would have to be prepared for occasional “messages” from evangelical Friends.
Quakers say, “Way will open,” meaning that there will be inner leading in one direction or another. I have become leery of this statement, feeling instead that as a responsible adult, I will choose the way that seems best for me and learn by my actions – but one nice thing about the Quakers is that you can interpret your own meaning into the terminology. That is, “way will open” could become “from your inner voice,” from your life experiences. And indeed, “way will open.” Life brings its surprises.
There is much to learn from non-theist groups.
One of the actions in the right column of my Action Board was to order the book, Godless for God’s Sake – Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism, edited by David Boulton (available from www.quakerbooks.org) I was curious as to why non-theists would be Quakers. After finishing the book, I looked forward to connecting with these Universalist Quakers through their web site and on-line talk groups. I signed up for their list-serve and read along for a few months, but then dropped out.
One sticking point for me was how to respect the variety of beliefs represented in Quakerism when I think of some of those beliefs as harmful. It would have been interesting to see how others in the talk group would respond to that question, but I guess now that I’ll live without knowing.
Another consciousness-raising step is to read secular humanist books. I subscribed to the magazine Free Inquiry and am enjoying catching up with past issues. Whether you are a theist or a non-theist, exposure to the thinking of non-theists is strongly recommended. A book near the top of my pile is Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever.
I recently discovered the futurist website, www.edge.org, and plan to explore at more length there. Here are learned individuals at the cutting edge of where we are as a world and where we might travel, both for good or bad. There is much to learn and think about here.
Some folk find community other places, such as in Buddhism. For those who want to explore Buddhism, I solicited a few authors from Dan Cozort, co-editor, Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Cozort said that these authors give Buddhism a more human face: Thich Nhat Hanh, Stephen Batchelor, Thupten Chodron, and Lama Surya Das. More simply, order the desk calendar by the Dalai Lama and find a healthful thought to dwell with for the day.
If you don’t want to attend or participate in an organized group for community, don’t. Enjoy your Sunday mornings with reading, walking, getting out in nature, enjoying your solitude. Try all sorts of new experiences as you expand your horizons. Take a class in digital photography.
You will find resonance with like-minded authors. One of my first “friends” when coming out of fundamentalism was Charles Williams, a British author of novels and other books. He was the first “person” I came across who seemed to think the way I did, and I felt less alone. Too bad he was dead. To read two fairly recent books on Williams is an idea in the left column of my Action Board.
I continue to resonate with Williams’ understanding of how we need one another (i.e., a personal universe). Another concept was that of an audience of people looking to a charismatic preacher for healing. He remarked that they all looked alike, like beetles. His writing is good on getting to the core, finding the goodness, and recognizing the guises of people and teachings that preach life yet have no connection with it. He spoke of the folly of mistaking for real nourishment what withered breasts have to offer. One mainstream clergyman character tells how being close to an evangelical preacher makes him feel like a sinner. These few ideas are core ideas for someone coming out of fundamentalism. As I recall from the long time ago reading of his novels, it’s almost as if Williams translates religious symbols to human symbols.
Think about symbols and stories to replace those of fundamentalism in your life.
Fundamentalism was rich with a set of symbols for God. God was presented as father, son, savior, lamb, sacrifice, holy spirit, messiah, lover, king of kings, and so on. There are plenty of other symbols and metaphors – the garden, the snake, a sacrificial lamb, the prodigal son, and so on.
What if we leave that language and those symbols? Can we find another language and set of symbols that helps us to a natural spiritual existence and divinity that must be cared for and cultivated in the world and in everyday life? What would this be called? What would it look like?
I’m going to make a stab at this. It may or may not resonate with you: I see us as creators, caretakers of the earth and its creatures, participants in cooperative communities, explorers, thinkers, appreciators of beauty, enjoyers, truth-sayers, dancers, singers, visionaries, poets, meaning-makers, language users, sufferers, nurturers, story-tellers, on and on.
What good is this exercise? I suppose you could say it is consciousness-raising. Perhaps you could begin by writing down some new words and feelings about who you are and want to become and the personal symbols that give them meaning. Then read it each morning, as a reminder of who you are, a human in your better self…as a reminder of how amazing we humans are and the place humankind has attained…at this moment in time on our tiny green planet somewhere out in the universe.
Think about what your story is.
You came from a dramatic story: the god sent his son to die for your sins, and then you got saved and then told the good news to others.
We humans are story-tellers. I remember a United Methodist minister telling the congregation years ago that he was “born again” on the psychiatrist’s couch.
I wonder if our post-fundamentalism stories might go something like this:
“We journeyed out of a religion that demanded surrender of our self, our soul, our mind, and our humanity. Our present journey is one of growing awareness and consciousness. We are growing our humanity.
“We make a conscious effort to stand for what is human at every juncture. Our choice is not for the things that many people want – riches, fame, millions of so-called friends – but for something that should be in every heart before it is surrendered or crushed – to be a warrior and to care about the living world, especially to care about freedom of thought.”
Own your shadow side, the dark side, too.
In fundamentalism, we repressed the dark side as sinful. Now we have the freedom to feel our feelings and learn from them and from our mistakes. Now we have the freedom to be ourselves, which is simply to be a human being, with all the wonderful potentials and all the light and darkness. We can learn that there are many things that it’s right to feel anger about – injustice, unnecessary pain, factory farming of animals, inaction in the light of climate change, human trafficking, tobacco companies that target youth overseas, pesticides that are killing the bees.
We can feel anger about more mundane issues, too, such as a nuisance boss. Anger of all sorts is an invitation to growth, both for added understanding and constructive action. Sometimes anger reactions in ourselves will disappoint us, but they can be useful, too. A friend said to her partner, “I’m afraid I will hurt you.” “You will,” he replied. “And I’ll hurt you. So we’ll work it out and grow from these experiences.”
We can come to intellectual understandings of what we have been through, but we can make heart and imagination connections as well, perhaps through art or music. Paint your journey. Draw a timeline. Dance your journey. Sing it.
Go sit out in nature.
Read poetry to a tree. Take in the sights, smells, and sounds. Feel the energy in nature. Get acquainted with artists who tried to paint that energy, such as Van Gogh. See nature through the eyes of artists in love with light, that is, the Impressionists. Compare the differences with Rembrandt. Get a book on art appreciation. Read reviews.
When I started my photography classes, photography was referred to as poetry in light and as painting in light. We were told that photography was all about light and that we would learn to see light in new ways. Photography is great for someone like me, who doesn’t have artistic talent. Digital Photography for Dummies is about my speed.
Repeat some affirmations: “I am part of nature.” “This world is my world.” “This world is real.” “I love this world.” “This is a beautiful world.” “This world is my home.” “I am at home in this world.” “I belong here.” Track down Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”
Don’t give power to folk who want to “fix” you and listen to your inner voice.
You have the answers within for your life. Don’t look to be fixed. There are no magic bullets, no easy answers. Deal with it.
Katie’s 4 questions can help us sort through troublesome personal issues, such as the eating disorders common in those leaving fundamentalism (and maybe for many still in fundamentalism as well).
Previously we mentioned addictions as being common among fundamentalists and recovering fundamentalists. Let’s try an exercise on an eating addiction.
Thought: I overeat a lot.
Is the thought that you overeat a lot true? “Yes, I see it as true.”
Can you absolutely know that the thought that you overeat habitually is true?
“Well, sometimes it seems that way, but no, it’s not always absolutely true.”
Who would you be without the thought that you overeat habitually?
“I’d feel free, without a burden that I’ve been carrying around for too long. I could put my mind to other things. I could enjoy eating wisely.”
Do the turn-arounds:
I don’t overeat habitually. “Plenty of times I eat in a healthy manner and am satisfied. I like lots of other things, besides eating. I have also learned that food is not the only way to reward myself from work. I can take a break, enjoy music, or call a friend. There are plenty of other gratifying activities besides food. Food is an activity that can be gratifying, also, and I will try a new recipe today and look forward to enjoying creativity in food preparation.”
The purpose of working through these questions on thoughts as they come up is not to change the thoughts or the actions but rather to open up new ways of thinking and let our thinking change naturally in its own time. Escapist-type activities can all be examined through Inquiry. “I need to play solitaire before I start this activity.” “I don’t feel like doing stretching exercises.” “I need your love.” For the latter, I already mentioned Katie’s CD/book, I Need your Love – Is That True?
I am not a nutritionist, but I know a few things about what can help with food addition. Coconut oil helps to even out blood sugar and depress appetite, plus it improves sleep. Stay away from sugar, white flour, and artificial sweeteners. If you are overweight, cut way back on carbohydrates and sweet fruit. Eat a Granny Smith apple or a kiwi fruit.
A sugar high can result in a sugar depression. Sugar adds to the depression of a lot of folk. If I ate a lot of sugar, I’d feel like slitting my throat. Sugar can explain a lot of depression. If you crave sugar, you might look into two subjects: hypoglycemia and candida. You may have to travel beyond mainstream medicine to learn about these, such as going to an integrative medicine physician or a naturopath. Do a search for “candida + diet.”
Check the nutrition information at www.rethinkingcancer.org, where nutritional food is medicine. A friend who is an Austrian physician told me that many Europeans are taking baking soda in the morning to alkalinize their bodies. I forget if she said ½ t or 1 t. Check with your health care practitioner.
If you are a post-menopausal woman and feel depressed, your depression could be hormonal. When I first wrote this, I recommended seeking out a physician experienced in bio-identical hormone therapy for a testosterone prescription to relieve depression. Prescription testosterone costs over $250/month. Bioidentical testosterone costs about $10/month.
Since then, though, I’ve had a negative side-effect apparently from bio-identical hormone therapy and have heard of others also experiencing side-effects. One physician (who prescribes them upon request) reflected that there can be some weird side-effects and that it’s hard to get the dose exactly right. A naturopathic physician offers suggestions for getting the thyroid and adrenals to do their thing and produce the hormones the body needs so that hormone replacement therapy would not be needed. At least I am raising the questions for you to explore with local practitioners. Living with depression is a tough road, and some of the side-effects of common anti-depressants are not so good.
Now it’s time for learning to live out our love affair with the world and the people of the world and with ourselves.
Now it’s time to reclaim our own lives, to sing and have joy, to outgrow and leave behind the religious mindset that had bound us tightly. It’s time to learn what freedom is about, to reclaim our future.
Do not confuse solitude with loneliness.
Solitude means that you enjoy your own company and enjoy being alone. If our lives are full, whether we are out somewhere or home alone, we will not be lonely.
What experiences do we have with sustained discipline?
Amy Chua’s book, Tiger Mother, informs us that Chinese mothers know that learning an instrument is not fun until you are excellent at it. Chua also notes that Chinese mothers know their children are capable of much more than American mothers think their children are.
Anticipate change, and welcome it.
“Is not impermanence the very flavor of our days?” – quotation by an unknown author.
A Quaker friend told me how her lawyer husband broke the news to her that he had fallen in love with his secretary. After a divorce, he married his secretary. I was expressing the usual dismay, but she stopped me and said that the secretary and her ex- really had more in common than she and he had. She remained friends with him to the end of her life, and he was supportive to her in any way he could be.
Byron Katie (“Katie”) advises us to love what is. If we fight reality, we lose only 100% of the time. (www.theWork.com)
While we’re on the subject of Katie, I’d like to share a response she had to someone fearful of death.
“Are you afraid of going to sleep?”
“Dying is like going to sleep, and when you wake up, you’ll know what to do.”
I like that, even with its magical thinking aspect. Many of us could change the “when” to “if” without losing much. If we wake up, we’ll know what to do, because we chose to base on our lives on trust and love, not on fear.
A friend crossed paths recently with a staff person who works in a natural health center. The woman welcomed her with the words, “I’ve been expecting you.” No one knew that my friend was going to stop by that center. Then the staff worker proceeded essentially to “do a reading” on my friend, telling her a half dozen or so things that the staff person would have had no way of knowing. My friend is not attuned to “airy fairy” stuff like that, but she couldn’t deny what she had been told. She subsequently learned what she could from the staff worker but then pulled back when the woman’s weirdness got to be too much. Nothing much had come out of the exchange by the time it ended.
What do you do with something like that, if you are an atheist or agnostic? I put it in my “Unresolved Issues” folder, remind myself that there are things I don’t understand, and go on with my life. The last three phrases of Apple’s Steve Jobs, before he passed, were “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.” Many people apparently think they are seeing something good as they die. Are they? Could the chemistry of their dying brains be causing the visions? You and I have no way of proving this one way or the other.
We make our own heaven or our own hell, right here in River City (The Music Man). If we come from a stance of love and trust, that love and trust will hold us in good stead to the ends of our earthly lives…and then there’s the mystery. I feel like I have enough to do to learn to live a 100% human life. I am grateful for the freedom to do that.
Plan on living abroad for an extended time if you can swing it.
Where would you live? Why? Would you get involved in a volunteer activity? I’ve started keeping a list of possible organizations that I might volunteer with when I am able to spend some time abroad. Living abroad broadens our perspectives as world citizens.
I’m reading a book at present that is like a trip to China for me. It helps me to see my own country – and my own post-fundamentalist life – in new ways. The book is by Chinese dissident and Nobel prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, No Enemies, No Hatred. Xiaobo is on his third imprisonment.
Let me give you a few quotations from his essay on “Chinese Politics and China’s Modern Intellectuals,” because they resonate with our paths from fundamentalism:
- “My own best hope is only to get as deep and accurate a grasp of these things as I can. On a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I suddenly realized how insignificant the China issues that I have been wrestling with are, if one measures them in terms of true spiritual creativity. Looking at the masterworks, I was struck with how superficial my thinking was, and how atrophied my vitality, after so many years of being cooped up in a benighted environment of what was, essentially, a cultural desert. Eyes kept too long in the darkness do not easily adapt to dazzling sunlight when it suddenly pours through a window. How could I, all of a sudden, face my own situation squarely, much less engage in dialogue with world-class thinkers? (120)
- “Some Western intellectuals, beginning from criticisms of their own societies, have looked Eastward, peering toward mystical eastern culture in search of solutions to humanity’s problems; but this is often fatuous self-delusion of a most ridiculous sort. ‘Eastern culture’ in today’s world cannot even come to grips with the problems in its own region, let alone be any beacon for humanity as a whole.” (122)
- “Even if its self-transformation succeeds in the short term, China cannot rise to the economic level of the U.S. or Japan; our planet cannot bear a superpower so large. This is why I do not look to the flourishing of any race to support my own well-being, do not pin my hopes on any particular group, and do not count on any society’s progress to assure my future. I can only rely on my own efforts in contending with this world.” (127)
- “Rationalizing such ways of life has eroded people’s spiritual dimension, inflamed their brutishness and materialism, and degraded them to the level of animals. With the devaluation of faith and the sacred, people are enthralled by carnal desires. Stripped of compassion and a sense of justice, they are reduced to callous, calculating economic beings, content with a life of ease.” (129), from “On Living with Dignity in China.”
Consider professional counseling if you think that would be beneficial.
Remember that I’m just a layperson in this area, with no mental health training. As a layperson who has read a few books, I’d recommend that you look for an interpersonal counselor, either with a Rogerian or Eriksonian orientation. There is no magic formula for finding a good one. If you are not comfortable, move on.
Avoid professionals who still are talking in terms of “scripts,” i.e., early patterns of behavior. “Your mother was emotionally withholding, therefore you are …..” Uncovering early patterns doesn’t help you with learning what that experience means or how to grow out of it.
Here’s an overview to help you get oriented to therapy and hopefully pick a therapist who will be helpful to you:
In our teenage years, we do not have developed personalities, only “potentials.” At such a young age, our personalities have two ways they can go. They can both take on and carry forward into adult life the patterns and experience of childhood, or they can forge new patterns and understandings from new experience and grow as an adult personality.
When it comes to fundamentalism, the easy way is to simply carry forward all the childhood patterns from fundamentalism. The individual may think that he has left fundamentalism, but the patterns of behavior and thinking are still there – if not the belief. In this case the individual takes the easy path, not rising to the challenges to change or understand. Even leaving a church or an organized religion, a person may continue on the easy path and just layer over beliefs and behaviors with something else with similar patterns, slipping into what he wanted to leave behind.
There are many different kinds of offers today to help individuals with all kinds of things. A good thumb nail guide is to watch out for any kind of help that simply re-cycles you into a similar script. You may learn that you’ve re-cycled your experience but you don’t learn what the experience has been, or how to change that experience. For some people the real lack of development is the inability to be open to, or the lack of, new experience itself – like being on a treadmill.
There have been breakthroughs in clinical psychology to help individuals off this treadmill. They are based on helping people to understand past experience and to learn how to find and use new directions and new experiences. To gain your own humanity – and personality – is hard work, but that hard work can give you a solid and real world place to stand in yourself.
Give consideration to your needs for community.
I have continually been interested in questions of “where to find like-minded folk to talk with,” “where can I find friends, having left behind the ones I had in evangelicalism,” and, “is there a community – or could I start a community – which could add to my life and with which I could make a contribution?” “What can I share with recovering fundamentalists that might help them find community?”
After being part of this, that, and the other religious communities, my current sense is more to focus on a limited number of friendships, with folk who have a similar inner compass. When I first exited the fundamentalist church, I wanted a community that was involved with the world, more so than interested in personal spirituality. I wanted action and engagement more than meditation and spirituality. I sensed a need for consciousness-raising in the form of books and journals from a more secular humanist approach.
(“Secular humanism” is viewed as the devil by many fundamentalists. If you are one of them, try to get beyond the black-and-white mentality. Go to www.secularhumanism.org and review the Affirmations. There’s a lot of good stuff there. Remember, we’re concentrating on non-religious terminology on this web site.)
Maybe you remain a theist and prefer a religious community. My cautions to you would be to beware of passivity, comfort, navel gazing, and distraction. Read a lot to expand your consciousness, because it is so easy to fall asleep in a warm cocoon. Read books that are non-theist. Ask yourself where the action is. Are people engaged in trying to grapple with the problems of the world and engaged with current events? Do they love facts?
I have been strengthened by some of the good folk from more progressive religious communities. At times I needed examples, both men and women, of caring, decent folk who loved justice, of folk who were growing and not stagnating, of folk who would just let me be. Now I look for a friend here and a friend there, while also participating in a local humanist group and a book discussion group at the Unitarians, and occasionally attend a presentation at the Quakers. I’ll check in with speakers at Physicians for Social Responsibility and several of the environmental advocacy groups. The Council for Secular Humanism offers on-line classes and conferences, through www.secularhumanist.org. I like their publication and have also heard good things about the publication of the American Humanists, if I got that right.
You could also – as I do – meet people through an activity unrelated to religion, such as through an advocacy group or photography classes. Or, maybe you’d like to develop your talent as a painter, or join a local chorus. Expand. Try this and that. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Volunteer at a prison.
I mentioned previously that this web site would help you get from A to B, from the religious mindset to freedom as an adult human being. I’ll qualify that statement now.
I can give you some tips and clues on getting from A to B, but there is no recipe book. We once had a recipe book, the bible or some other scriptures. We could study that and, under the guidance of our group, pretty much know what our value system was, how to live our life, what the consequences of good and bad behavior were, etc. We were programmed for that approach in fundamentalism. Now it may feel “familiar” to want to apply the same approach with another source of guidance, say, what a therapist tells us or even what this web site shares. Doing that, however, is not going to serve us any better than trying to become a walking bible served us.
Ultimately, we have to find our own life within us and follow the promptings of our human spirit. We have to own our own self and walk our own path through life. Our growth is our responsibility. We have within us the potential for self-awareness, increasing levels of insight and understanding, learning from experience, and the full blossoming of our human potential.
We are learning to recognize and listen to an “inner voice,” the organic, growing part of our true selves. We are learning to integrate the different parts of our self, including the emotions, the reasoning ability, our intuition, and the body. We are learning that an essential way how we come to know our self is how we let information in and process it, in relation with other people and life experience.
We have to find what is authentic for our life and grow a life organically, like a tree grows – straight and tall, deep rooted in nutrients, leaves shimmering in the wind, reaching for the sun.
It’s not so scary once we get started on our journey. In fact, growing to our full potential is an invitation to a fulfilling adventure. When asked if he had tried drugs, George Harrison said something to this effect, “’Did some acid. It opened some doors, but it didn’t open the real doors.” I was in the fundamentalist church, and it was a high, but it wasn’t the real high.
Recovering fundies have the invitation to reconnect with reality and fall in love with our life in this world, rather than the next. This world is our home. This amazing green and blue globe out in space, with just the right conditions to support life as we know it….
The following is from a group known as “Friends of the Earth”:
If the earth
were only a few feet in
diameter, floating a few feet above
a field somewhere, people would come
from everywhere to marvel at it. People would
walk around it, marveling at its big pools of water,
its little pools, and the water flowing between the pools.
People would marvel at the bumps on it, and the holes in it,
and they would marvel at the very thin layer of gas surrounding
it and the water suspended in the gas. The people would marvel
at all the creatures walking around the surface of the ball, and at the crea-
tures in the water. The people would declare it sacred, because it was the
only one, and they would protect it, so that it would never be hurt. The
ball would be the greatest wonder ever known, and people would
come to pray to it, to be healed, to gain knowledge, to know
beauty, and to wonder how it could be. People would love
it and defend it with their lives, because they would
somehow know that their own lives, their own
roundness, could be nothing without it. If
the Earth were only a few
feet in diameter.
TRUST YOUR MOTIVATIONS
Fundamentalism would say that in leaving the religion, you are a back-slider, disobedient to God, lost in your sins, on the way to hell, following the lusts of your flesh, etc. Whose business is it what fundamentalism says? Is it their business or your business? It is their business what they say, and you have left them behind.
Stay in your business, as Katie would say (www.theWork.com). Your business is to be a real person. As a real person, ask yourself: “Do I want to have one night stands and be on to the next person?” “Do I want to damage my brain and run off to get enslaved by heroin?” “Do I want to – “ oh, fill in the blank….
The point is, you don’t want to do any of these low-life, dead-end things. You just want to understand what you went through, to get your life back, and to build and live a good life. Trust your motivations for good. You are a good person, and you can build a decent life, with plenty of love in it. Sure, you’re human, and you have darker impulses just like the rest of us. As you get stronger and understand and make better choices, the light will get stronger in you. You’ll understand that the darker side is as much a teacher as the lighter side, and you’ll embrace all parts of you but more and more choose the light.
For example, suppose you are angry with your parents for bringing you into the evangelical church. The anger may be legitimate, and it is good to be able to feel that anger, not only against life-constricting fundamentalism but against other sorts of injustice. You can extend that anger on behalf of your parents, on how their lives were constricted by the church, too.
When you were in fundamentalism, you might have thought that anger is sinful and prayed about it. Outside of fundamentalism, you learn that anger can be legitimate but that to dwell in anger is a dead-end occupation. You’re angry at your parents? Would you be angry at an arthritic father because he couldn’t jog around the track with you?
Remind yourself that we are all alike. Did your parents hurt you? You will hurt them and others. None of us has clean hands. The important thing is to say “ouch” when you are in pain, learn from it, forgive where needed, and use your energies to make something positive.
LEARN FROM A PAINFUL EXPERIENCE
I’m going to share with you a very painful experience for me and how I had to deal with it. I came across a neglected old dog in an outside pen. I dithered so long about what to do (after the local humane society told me to leave her there, that they would euthanize her) that time passed and winter came. The dog froze to death. She died the night before I went to get her.
Not only was I too late to rescue the dog who froze to death but also a companion dog (same owner) which had been shot to death a few months before by the owner. The second dog had killed a kitten, and the man killed the dog because he “didn’t want a killer on his property.” You get the irony there. Who exactly was the killer?
You understand what made this story so tragic. I could have done something to save those dogs, and I didn’t act in time. This type of life experience is profound, because no one else was involved but me and the dogs, living things. I recognized a human need to act on behalf of the dogs in a lethal situation, but I was too slow in arranging to pick them up.
My lack of action resulted in the death of the dog that froze. I felt deep regret. The lesson was that I was made aware of new dimensions of life and living and learned something more about my awareness and action. I had to forgive myself and turn my distress to more constructive actions. I told a friend about this sad scenario and she gave a comforting hug and reassured me that despite this tragedy, I am not a negligent or unworthy person.
You, too, can turn hurt into something positive and use it to deepen your understanding of another aspect of life. Maybe you’d be able to put hurt and anger aside enough to see that your fundamentalist parents are elderly and could use your help with yard work or housecleaning.
With imagination, you can understand that there is always another way to look at something. If you instead take the stance that you will never forgive your parents for bringing you into fundamentalism…well, isn’t that a fundamentalist attitude? – separating people into the white sheep and the black sheep? I look back at my times with my parents and realize that I could have done much more to help them, but sadly my main objective most times seemed more to protect myself against them.
Thus ends this section on tips for growing a self.
In the next section, we’ll address relationships. What are the special pitfalls for former fundamentalists? What is a good relationship? We’ll talk about romance and friendships, as well as relating to fundamentalist relatives.