This tab is a continuation from Relating to Fundamentalists, which got too long and was actually about relating to fundamentalist relatives as well. So, if you’ve tuned in here for the first time, start on the previous tab.
What about divorce from a fundamentalist spouse?
Divorce? How many fundamentalists do you know where one marriage partner has asked for a divorce and moved on, keeping as close a relationship with the fundamentalist children as they are open to? Probably not many. This can be tough territory here.
Your children may or may not eventually join you on the road to freedom, but at least you will be in a position to throw them a lifeline if needed. I hope that you do not lose your children if you break with fundamentalism. You may, you know. But if you do, consider that you already may have lost them to the church.
If you want to live a life of integrity, then you have to do what you have to do. Living an example of freedom and emotional honesty outside the church may be what saves your children from fundamentalism, sooner or later. Each person, including your child, is responsible for the decisions they make in their lives. If your children do not want something more than fundamentalism, nothing you can do will change that.
As a friend said of her heroin-addict daughter: “You can’t love an addict enough to sober her up.” You can’t love your children into the fresh air of freedom. They have to want that for themselves. You can expose them to freedom, though, and never give up on loving them.
Continuing on the subject of divorce, you may have to ask some questions that you never imagined you would be asking when you married. What is a marriage? Do you still have a marriage? Have you outgrown your marriage? Do you still love your spouse? Can you talk to your spouse? Are you lonely living with someone who cannot understand who you have become? What would be fair to you and to your spouse? If you stay with your spouse, what are you teaching your children? If you leave, what are you teaching them? Some children are relieved when parents divorce; others suffer but get stronger for the trauma; others falter.
Answers to these questions may take time to work out. Bring in a child psychologist if your children are going through a rough time, or to help prepare them if you and your spouse decide to separate.
Think about getting a dog to help you relate with your children. I hope you’re fortunate enough to get a smart and sensitive dog. My mother and I had a full-sized 11-lb chihuahua, and she was an incredible dog, laid back and funny, though I wouldn’t recommend this breed for children.
You might feel less alone if you connect with the pain of other people. There are plenty of books out there where people share their stories, such as with former fundamentalist accounts. Broaden your horizon and read widely. You have a lot of catching up to do, not only intellectually but also emotionally. Maybe your situation will be seen in better perspective then.
Can’t afford to separate?
And if you can’t afford to separate and divorce? Lots of folk are in this boat. Explore your options and see what works best for you, given the circumstances. Check in with a counselor. You and your spouse might go to a secular counselor together, for a referee to help you work out compromises. If your spouse won’t go, you go. Another perspective will be helpful, as will the emotional support. Find your own support network, whether it is through “recovery” web sites, from consciousness-raising through books and articles, from attending conferences on allied subjects.
Work your way away from the subject of religion and into real life. Learn to accept and then to celebrate this life as all we know and all we have. Develop your full human potential. Make a contribution to the earth. Meet kindred spirits in your areas of passion. Live your purposes.
Do these things and your thoughts will be positively engaged, not focused on a struggle with folk who don’t want to change, who are happy as they are. Outgrow those folk, while paying them whatever familial respect is due. You may find that you can experience a kind of joy as you give and help your relatives and make them happy as you can.
Holidays can be on a survival level for you, but you can have inner rewards in doing for your fundamentalist relatives. Beware of feelings of superiority in yourself. Remember, you and I were there once. There might have been those outside the religion who thought us hopeless, but we responded in our own time and came to want something better. One male friend, when I was young, called me a “demolition expert,” who rolled over his spirit with my sense of evangelical rightness. Another Islamic friend told me that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Good reflections. Both were right, though my evangelical life went on for another half dozen years until more building blocks for escape accumulated.
Be active, not passive. Sam Harris decried fundamentalism as being a waste of one’s time and energies that could be used for other projects. When we’re on the inside of the religion and thinking about leaving, it can seem as if everything is in slow motion. It can take so long to make decisions, and the decisions often relate to the context we have just come from. “Should I try a different church?” “Should I read a book about the loss of faith?” “Should I read a book on Buddhism?”
What if you said, “Scrap it all! I need to learn what life is about. I need to get with a (secular) counselor who can help me get oriented. I want to get it as together as soon as I can because life is passing me by. I need to develop a value system, to figure out what I’ve come from and what I want to go to, to connect up with my early growth processes.”
This is your life. Learn a new way, no matter whether you live alone or with a fundamentalist family. I’m not suggesting that you avoid questions of faith and doubt, etc., but rather that you build a life first so that you have some foundation to better reflect on what you have come from. Don’t feel anxious or think that you have to have “answers” before you can move on. That’s fundamentalist thinking.
Get in motion. Don’t focus on your own little religious world, either being in it or coming from it. Doing that would be like a frog who can’t accept his “frogness” and refers everything back to what it was like being a tadpole. The frog learns that there is a whole world outside and starts exploring. Watch out for a rigid mentality in yourself. Be kind to yourself when relating to the fundamentalists in your life. Be on guard against a black-white mentality in your own thinking. It’s so easy for us to slip into judgmentalism.
There are gradations of relationships. Because you cannot talk to your fundamentalists on a level that you might wish you could does not mean that you have to shun them. That would be an example of a residual fundamentalist mindset in you. Explore the levels on which you can share. Come to accept them as they are, love them for who they are, be grateful for what they give, give to them as you can, and share with them where you can. Accept that the fundamentalists in your life love you as they can, too. Where appropriate, speak your truth. Where your truth would not be honored, be silent.
Connect on other levels. Make friends with the birds and the trees so that you don’t feel alone if you live with fundamentalists. Put up a birdbath, and let the wild creatures gladden your heart as you observe them. Provide food for them in the winter. Get a pair of binoculars. The birds will do more for you than you can do for them. In the summer, plant dill and milkweed for butterflies. Learn how to raise butterflies. Visit www.monarchwatch.com.
Be open to the many faces of love. We former fundies sure don’t have a corner on the market for love. Listen to Robert Hayden’s poem where he remembers his strict Baptist father:
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Explore poetry, if you’re not already doing that. The above poem was printed in the book, Poet’s Choice – Poems for Everyday Life, selected and introduced by Robert Hass, then the U.S. Poet Laureate. This book is an introduction to the world of poetry, which can deepen the sensibilities of a recovering fundamentalist and help open us to human emotions… two things that might have been in short supply when we were in the fundamentalist religion.
Find your sense of humor.
When you’ve had enough, find your sense of humor. We share this one finite globe and have to make the best of it, have to try to be the best people we can be, despite the circumstances and the folk we find around us.
A friend and I were walking on city streets and came upon a quintessential city dweller sitting in a small, person-sized dumpster, with his legs crossed over the edge of the dumpster, reading a book. I said to my friend, “That’s what I want. My own dumpster to sit in and read my own book!” He laughed and reflected that he’d like one for himself, too, having his own family situation.
See if you can break through to laughter over your situation. I asked a friend how she was doing as her husband declined in senility. She laughed and said, “As best I can for living with a crazy little man.”
Your fundamentalists may see you as their mission field.
You and the fundamentalists in your life are at different places in your lives. Your energy may be flagging. You may be dealing with confusion, grief, insomnia, guilt…and the evangelicals in your life are at the top of their game, happy and smiling, blessing you and clueless. They may even be thriving on the challenge you present. Their energies are kicking in over an unexpected turn of events. They have renewed purpose, to get you back in the fold.
As you continue to grow in understanding, you can come to a place where you can be yourself, even with a fundamentalist in the household. You may have little to talk about with that person, and that’s ok. Recognize that fact and don’t beat yourself up over it. The fundamentalist is used to shining, glowing church people around her. She may not be comfortable with your withdrawal. She may not be able to come to terms with it, because her training is to draw you in.
You are polite and courteous, but you do not enter into her emotional world. You may have little to say to her. You may have to spell things out to her. If married, you may need to move out of the bedroom. Talk with a therapist. Be prepared for the loneliness of the fundamentalist. Remind yourself that you are not at fault for the loneliness of a fundamentalist spouse. She is doing it to herself. She is doing it by the ill-advised choices she makes for her life. That is her business. You cannot do anything about it. You can regret her situation. It is only human to do so. The best thing you can do for yourself (and for her and for your children, should children be involved) is for you to be happy, productive, and growing – moving up the mountain.
Let life speak to the fundamentalists in your life, if life can get through to them. And if the fundamentalist feels left out, bereft? You might not be able to make things better for her and retain your own integrity. Maybe loneliness will be the spur that causes her to start thinking and opening up. You can hope so, but don’t hang around and wait for it to happen. Separation may be necessary before things can get better, if there is any potential for them getting better.
Remember that the fundamentalist is first separated from her own self, by her religion. No wonder she is lonely. A fundamentalist spouse who loves you may face a scary impasse, to choose between her husband and questioning her faith. Be gentle but firm. Stay in your own business and out of hers. Be careful of feeling sorry for the fundamentalist. Again, he or she made some bad choices. That’s not your fault. Should that fundamentalist one day want something better, want to rejoin the human race, the picture could be different. But for now, know that you are not going to change them. They are the only ones who can do that.
Have compassion but maintain your boundaries. Appreciate once again how a religion that claims to be love itself in actuality separates people, when one of those people no longer buys into the religion. Much pain can result, on both sides. What’s the definition of tragedy? “It has to be different, but it isn’t.”
Fundamentalism dampens curiosity in people.
Watch what the fundamentalist reads. You may have all sorts of interesting books about, more than enough to grab the curiosity of an open person. The fundamentalist may exhibit no interest whatsoever in your books but trot off to the library to get yet another book about an Amish woman’s journey to faith and true love. What does this tell you?
You are interested in developing your mind. The fundamentalist is not. You are pro-intellect. The fundamentalist is anti-intellect. You are alive and growing. The fundamentalist is going nowhere. That’s not your problem. They can’t and won’t join you in explorations of the mind. They already think they know everything that needs to be known, via the bible. You’ll be listening to MSNBC news, and they will be watching something on the other TV that is a bunch of fluff, not worth spending one’s time on, reflective of a limited worldview. Let it go. Don’t judge them. What they do with their time is not your business.
You are responsible for your life, not for theirs. The fundamentalist in your life might not be interested in the books on your shelf, but she could be very interested in what you are reading. Why? Because she’s looking for a good book? You know better than that. You can almost hear the snap calculation in her brain. Her antennae are sniffing out where your head is at from what you are reading.
Strange as it may seem, it can be an inappropriate letting down of your boundaries to answer the question about what book you are reading. Maybe, instead deflect her question and gesture to your bookshelf. Innocently ask if she is looking for a good book to read. You know she’s not, but she may not come back at you after that response. Turn questions back on the fundamentalist. There’s another point to be made about this question, “What book are you reading?” The fundamentalist I was living with at the time also asked me if I had finished the book I was reading. I replied, reluctantly and monosyllabically, “Yes.” “Was it good?” “Yes.”
In thinking about this later, I sensed it also as not only a boundary issue but also a control issue. She asked me a question that intruded into my space, putting me on notice that she expected a response. Was whether I had finished what I was reading any of her business? Why should she care if I’d finished my book? The exchange left me feeling as if she was sticky and extended a tendril to stick onto me, or that her questions were from idle curiosity.
I’m ok when I can go on with my life, knowing that she is going on with hers. It’s when she oozes over into my space that I get uncomfortable. If we have to do what we have to do to mark our borders, so be it. We have to tame the lions…and it can be done. Compare how a friend on the outside with whom one has something in common would react. “I saw that book you were reading. What a great topic! I’d like to read it when you’re finished.” Or, “I saw that book you were reading. You might be interested in also reading blah-blah. I’ve often wondered about the subject of blah-blah.” The friend enters into your stream of conversation, whereas the fundamentalist’s questions feel intrusive and pointless. They just kind of hang out there, unconnected.
Just because the fundamentalist asks, you do not have to answer. You could in turn ask her a question. “Why do you ask that, are you looking for a good book?” Or, simply say, “I’m not comfortable responding to that.” Try saying those words. “I’m not comfortable responding to that.” And leave it be. Go on with what you were doing. She may wonder what’s with you, that you won’t answer a civil question. That’s not your problem.
Continuing on this point, remember that the other side of the coin is that fundamentalists are used to winning by patience and weakness. They won’t resist, will turn the other cheek, believing that time is on their side. We recovering fundies are primed to be intimidated by that attitude. We’ve likely heard so many stories of seeming independent folk brought to their knees over time.
Face that attitude. Face it in yourself. I still see its shadow in myself from time to time. I think of it like the drive of some prisoners to be accepted and approved of by their jailers, of the drive of some slaves to be approved of by their masters, the drive of many a woman to please an unworthy man.
I remind myself of Jefferson’s “eternal hostility” to any tyranny over the mind of man. What is at stake here is my human spirit. Will I honor that, recognize its wonderful capacity, look forward to continued development of that spirit, be grateful for the true human communication I enjoy and for the freedom of my emotions… or do I want to go back to being a slave? To have my life and my emotions dictated to? To shut down the light that I enjoy? To give into fear? To accept “their” definition for my life, that I am nothing without their deity. To let them destroy my self-esteem? I think not.
Listen to this line of poetry by Martha Ronk, “I don’t find you behind any eyes that you open.” Is that what you want? To go back to being a clone, a slave, with no identity save what the religion gives you? In one of his novels, Charles Williams gives a picture of a congregation of beetles, listening to the preacher because they all want to be healed. That desire for healing results for them in the beetle state. They would sell their souls to be healed…and yet, look at the cost to them, ending up less than human and all looking the same.
Sometimes it just takes courage, courage to say “No, I’m not going back.” It takes courage to have a dream and keep working toward that dream….to have a dream of growing into one’s full humanity, of being a joyful explorer and builder, of expanding the circle of one’s loves and relationships, of having one’s personal honesty and integrity. There’s so much to live for, as we take charge of our lives. Be strong. Have that courage. Set your will to grow and to learn and to dream. Set your will, and your consciousness and your body and your emotions will get in line. Draw the line of your boundaries and honor that line.
Be sad for the fundamentalists, but know that they have made their own choices. They have repressed the voice of life when it came to them. They have chosen to be right over openness and loving. They will not be able to understand you. Don’t even try. You have too much to do in a positive and constructive direction. Leave them behind. You cannot build a real friendship with a fundamentalist, because your loyalties are different. You are loyal to the earth, and they to heaven.
I say that even if they are your children. Be as good a parent as you can. Be yourself. Expose your children to as much freedom as you can. Ultimately it will be your children’s choice whether they choose life or self-surrender. If the latter, it will be sad, but there is nothing you can do about it. They are responsible for their own lives, and their decisions may shut you out. I understand that this would be so sad, but you do not own them. You have to let them go if they choose to surrender themselves to an ideology.
Stay in your business, not theirs. (Granted, there are times you might have to fight for them and be candid with your opinion.) Know that there’s a big world out there for you. Enjoy the fruits and the trees, the animals and the many good people you will find. Be good for something on this planet. Maintain your boundaries.
When the fundamentalist you live with asks personal questions, you may not want to answer them. Why? – because you want and need your privacy, because you are working on maintaining your boundaries and your personal space, because the fundamentalist wouldn’t understand your answers and maybe use them against you. But here come the questions. What do you do? Recognize that there are emotional complexities here. The fundamentalist does not have the same sense of boundaries that you have. The fundamentalist is perfectly happy to roll over into your areas of privacy.
On the one hand, the fundamentalist is probably decent and means you no ill. On the other hand, the fundamentalist by definition is not an open person and may not be able to take in what you are saying and to connect on a human level. The fundamentalist has an agenda that is built-in for her. She is likely not even aware of how completely her belief system frames how she sees the world and how or why she asks questions of you and how her mind processes the information you give in response.
For example, she asks you about a political opinion you have. You let your guard down, thinking that maybe you will say a few things that may cause her to stop and think. Your thought process happens in an instant, and it is fueled by a couple of things. It is fueled by the natural human desire to connect and by the natural human desire for speaking truth to power. You know that you have good points to make regarding your political opinion. Suddenly, you let down your personal boundary and you respond to her question as if she were a normal human being. She isn’t, though.
She hears one word in what you say that reminds her of an experience she had which had led her to the complete opposite opinion. She goes on and on about this experience. You feel that you have betrayed yourself and that you rose to the bait and got caught once again. You opened your boundary to respond to her question in good faith. Against your habitual self-protectiveness, you exposed yourself and your thoughts. In response, your thoughts did not register with her. Instead of conversing in the realm of ideas as you presented, she gives you an example that dismisses everything you said.
She uses that example as an answer to your whole opinion, as if you had said nothing further than your opening sentence. You realize that the exchange was useless and are not inclined to forgive yourself for being entrapped. Forgive yourself. The exchange wasn’t useless. You learned a lesson: that you should not share yourself with someone who isn’t listening. Call it an 85% lesson, because it will happen again. Don’t expect perfection. Just keep learning and trying new approaches in this difficult situation of having your life next to the life of a fundamentalist.
This type of situation is common to many if not most of us former fundamentalists. Think about how you are going to handle things when the fundamentalist asks you questions. One of the traps to watch out for is the “fear of rudeness.” You don’t want to be rude, so you answer. Let it sink in that you do not have to answer. Or, you might say something like, “I’m not comfortable with all these questions.” You might answer monosyllabically. There’s no easy answer here.
If you try to explain yourself, you may be doing no more than giving the fundamentalist more fodder to pray about. That, to me, would be an invasion of privacy, but even to say that to the fundamentalist…is more fodder to pray about. You can’t win! You may be in a lose-lose situation. You need to speak from your heart… and it is not safe to speak from your heart. Speaking from your heart can increase the pressure on you.
Think about the worst case scenario ahead of time. Jesus said not to cast your pearls before swine. These are hard verses when you think in terms of your own family, of people that you love. The main thing is NOT to make fundamentalist stressors the center of your life. Life is too short. Thank yourself for being here for you, and go on building your life. Put your energies to constructive activities.
Get your thoughts moving in a positive direction. Let the dead, as Jesus also said, bury the dead. Outgrow them. Leave them behind, when you can. I’d like to give you a half dozen possible responses to different situations, but I don’t have them. Sometimes responses just happen. David Viscott, M.D., called it a sign of mental health to be able to say “ouch” when someone hurts you. If you sense that a question will lead to your being hurt, don’t answer. Handle it a different way. If you went ahead and answered that first question, other questions might follow, other questions that are more probing – and if you answer them, the fundamentalist may feel the relaxing of your boundaries and proceed with questioning in more personal areas – raising your level of frustration with yourself.
I am fully appreciative of how difficult this is to handle. You want to be a good human being but you also need to set and maintain your boundaries. My friend, this is your classroom, and it is a very important classroom for your life. What you are going through will wise you up to how fundamentalists act in society. They count on the goodwill of unaware people to get their foot in the door. We are not primed to think of religion as causing harm. Religion has been the sacred cow in this country. Billy Graham walked with presidents, after all – yet read the book on his war-mongering (The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire, by Cecil Bothwell).
There are books that may help you here. I’d suggest reading on the subject of personal boundaries. This question about personal boundaries is an invitation to growth. Welcome it. Next, I’d take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers – The Story of Success, particularly chapter 4, part 3. I would guess that many of us weren’t from families that helped develop in us a healthy sense of entitlement.
This chapter helps us to see the contrast between no sense of entitlement and a healthy sense. That is, a child can grow up with a healthy sense of personal command, of knowing what he or she wants, of not being intimidated by authority, and so on. Or, a child can grow up to be submissive and passive, as would typically be the case in the fundamentalist culture. If we are from the latter type of environment, we need to grow our own sense of entitlement.
How might that work? Try some affirmations: “I live in this house with a fundamentalist, but I am entitled to my own life and my own space. I am entitled to having peace of mind in the presence of a fundamentalist. I am entitled to knowing that my path is ok, that I am ok. I am entitled to share what I want to share and not to share what I do not want to share. I am entitled to find my own happiness, follow my own creativity, and give where I want and not give where I don’t want. I am entitled to state my preferences, that I am uncomfortable with all the questions from the fundamentalist and that I will share what I am comfortable sharing and what she needs to know.
“I am entitled to be an adult and to participate in the household, such as with maintenance and chores. I am entitled to having peace of mind and emotional freedom in this home, even though I am living with someone I cannot connect with. I am entitled to my present and my future and can outgrow the pulls from the past. The fundamentalist’s religion is her concern, not mine. I am entitled to freedom of thought on my own turf. “I am entitled to have a smile on my face and to be grateful. I am entitled to be as caring to the other person as I can. I am entitled to know that I cannot meet the deepest needs of the fundamentalist and that she will have to look to her church members for that.
I can acknowledge her loneliness, remembering how lonely I was in the fundamentalist church, but I can cut her loose, knowing that there is nothing I can do to meet that loneliness. That is her path, based on the decisions she made for her life. “I am entitled not to be subjected to religious practices, such as sitting through family grace. I can simply say, ‘I’ll join you after you say grace’ and leave it at that. I am entitled to believe in myself even if all men doubt me, and I can make allowance for their doubting, too.”
That last sentence is from the Rudyard Kipling poem, ‘If.’”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Try writing up your own paragraph of entitlements and reading it each day.
Know that you are not talking to the average person here; you are in the presence of a fundamentalist. It may be easier for you to be yourself with the clerk in the grocery store than with the fundamentalists in your life.
But know, too, that from one perspective, you CAN be yourself with the fundamentalists in your life. You will just be in control of your personhood, being clear on where your boundaries are and your comfort zones. If you met those persons as strangers, you wouldn’t drum up a friendship with them. But they may be family and you may share years of memories. They may have been there for you when you went through tough times. They may have given you what they could. Again, you wouldn’t heap blame on a lame person because they can’t run a marathon.
Monitor the percentage of time you spend thinking about the situation with your spouse or parents. If the situation is in the forefront of your mind too often, that is not healthy. Do something about it. Change the situation, maybe go for counseling, or work Katie’s four questions (www.theWork.com), making sure that your journal is in a secure place. Write your thoughts out and then destroy the paper. Leaving your deepest feelings lying around in writing is at odds with trying to maintain boundaries… unless you want the fundamentalist to read your deepest feelings. If you do, make sure you aren’t self-destructive first-!
I particularly like Katie’s question, “Who would you be without the belief that….?” “Who would you be without the belief that you are constrained at home?” “I’d feel relieved, more able to be myself, still acknowledging healthy personal boundaries.”
On the other hand, in my opinion, the four questions can be inappropriate when working through some situations with the fundamentalist in your life. You will have to use your judgment.
Let me use the example of the fundamentalist wanting to know what book you are reading and you being uncomfortable responding. You understand the violation of boundaries issue at stake here. But let’s see how the four questions would play out and perhaps bring you to where you don’t want to be: Statement of belief: “I am not comfortable sharing the title of the book with the in-house fundamentalist.” Is that true? “Yes, it’s the way I feel.”
Who would you be without the belief that you are not comfortable sharing the title of the book with so-and-so? “I’d feel free, not constrained. I could deal with so-and-so like a real person who really was interested in my book.” Now turn it around: “I am comfortable sharing the title of the book with so-and-so.” OK, let’s dissect what’s happening here.
Your judgment, that it would be an unhealthy boundary violation if you told the name of the book, is being weakened. You are being opened up to possibly sharing the name of the book. In some instances that might not be a bad thing. But here, the reasonableness of your opinion and your decision not to share the title, based on your understanding and past experiences, is being diluted.
In my opinion, the four questions have the potential to knock your knees out from under you. If I worked the four questions assiduously, this web site might not exist. I may have worked myself into accepting everyone and everything and entered into bliss. I can’t do that … when I think of you and the children whose lives are damaged because of fundamentalism.
So there is a fine line here. Speaking for myself, I want to honor my brain, my sense of judgment, my ability to learn from experience, and even my discomfort with unsatisfying connections with fundamentalists. I want to call out when I believe religious practices and beliefs are harmful. I don’t want to turn the finger back at myself. If my inner voice and my inner compass tell me that this is a personal boundary issue, I don’t want to use anyone’s four questions to come to peace with the opposite opinion.
Do you understand what I am getting at? If you do, I will give you a tip, that Katie’s philosophy comes out of Al-Anon, where you are the one with the problem, not the alcoholic, where they say that you can only change you, not him. Well, that might be true, but your accommodation to him does not demand that he be an adult and pay the consequences for his actions.
I’m more attracted to books on sobriety without god, secular sobriety, even while freely admitting that AA and Al-Anon have helped a lot of people. (To find such secular books on drug addiction, search on the name, Dr. Andrew Tartarsky.)
In like manner, I choose as an adult to protect and maintain my personal boundaries against someone who asks me questions that I am not comfortable answering, such as, “What book are you reading?” I have reasons for my opinion. Having reasons doesn’t mean that I am close-minded. If the fundamentalist starts to read outside of religion on her own, then maybe we’d have something to talk about. I’m not going to hold my breath that that will happen. Meanwhile I choose with whom I will discuss my book.
MORE TIPS FOR RELATING TO FUNDAMENTALISTS IN YOUR LIFE
Are fundamentalists parasites?
Nothing like starting a section with a bang. Perhaps the fundamentalist in your life is a parasite. I never saw myself as a parasite when I was an evangelical, but looking back, what good was I in terms of making a contribution to the world and its needs? What good was I for myself? Of course at the time, I would have said that I was making the best contribution: working toward the salvation of souls, and that salvation would straighten out the new converts’ lives.
Now, seeing this fundamentalist religion as a rapacious devourer of human beings, I have a different perspective. On meeting up with a controller in fundamentalism The only thing to do with a controller is to grow strong enough to simply disregard them. There are lots of parents who are “bad apples” and wear “bad masks” for their children and others. And the earlier children learn this the easier time they have growing into their own persons. Some of these “bad apples” wear the mask of fundamentalism so they never have to face that about themselves.
Don’t make a religion out of being self-protective against fundamentalists. We recovering fundamentalists can live with the equivalent of a chip on our shoulder if we are not careful. I wonder if sometimes we have an underlying fear of being absorbed by fundamentalists if we are nice to them, that the hard fought gains we have made would dissolve and all of a sudden we’re back in fellowship, something which we never intended? Would you fear that your “self” would be absorbed and that you would just give up if you let down your protective wall?
I look back at the many years of visits back and forth with my parents. Too often those visits were a duty, something to get through before I could return to my own life. I would of course be nice and passively participate in whatever was on the family agenda, except for religious activities. I liked Sunday mornings when they were gone and I had the house to myself.
I re-think those visits and realize that I could have come with the intent of making my parents happy, of helping them with the house and yard, of making their lives a little easier. I could have had a stance of positive action instead of passive (and often reluctant) acquiescence. I could have been good for something, much more than I was. I didn’t see it back then, though.
There were times where I was proactive. For one, I got the video for the musical, “Cats.” I ran off the words, and my parents and I read the words together one Thanksgiving and then watched the musical. It was a really nice time together.
This example shows me how much I cut myself off from being “with” my parents, because of the opinions that I held in my head about boundaries and fundamentalism. There were areas that we could have shared more on, but I let the long shadow of fundamentalism extend into them. That was too bad.
I can see that there are levels here. One level is legitimate, that we have to develop and maintain our own boundaries and understand the life-denying issues of fundamentalism, but we can also unconsciously extend the shadow of fundamentalism to areas of human exchange where it doesn’t have to be extended. That seems to me another tragic legacy of fundamentalism, but at least it’s one that we can correct.
I agree that it can be hard to find areas of common humanity when the fundamentalist in your life feels obliged to keep rubbing your nose in religious language. I can only remember two meaningful conversations with my mother in my whole life (before her last few years) where she didn’t bring up religion somewhere in the conversation. Once we were at a restored historical house, and she was talking about the antique china and comparing her childhood memories of the china at her home, or some conversation like that. The second was after a friend of mine died, and I was telling her of his death-bed experience where he “died” an angry killer on the operating table and woke up a good person. He told me that after crying for three days over his deeds, he spent the rest of his life honoring life. (No, he didn’t go to prison, since his work was for the military.) This experience did not make him a god-believer, but the story still interested my mother and she made no religious comments but really listened, albeit probably making her own religious interpretation.
My friend was a firm believer in reincarnation, and I recall two statements he made. One, he hoped he didn’t have to return to earth as a soldier. He hoped he could come back as an educator or as a doctor. On the subject of not coming back again as a soldier, he also was very concerned about the movement to privatize the military and felt that this country is not the one he had fought for in the past. The second statement reflected his caring orientation. He envisioned his spirit as somewhere out there after death, enjoying wherever it was, but then hearing a call for help from the earth. “Like a fool,” he said, “I’d come back to earth.”
Back to my mother. Could I have found a better way within myself to just ignore her endless religious references and not wall myself off from them? I suppose so, but I see a two-way street here. I closed myself off from being more actively human in areas that we could have shared, but my mother also insisted on ongoing religious commentary that shut me out. How do you work with someone else’s agenda? You can’t, I don’t think, but perhaps you can use some creative thinking to swerve around it.
I mentioned the discussion group that I started at my mother’s assisted living place. Several of the attendees were evangelical, and one wanted to “open in prayer” at the very first meeting. Others gave their testimonies for just about any topic at the beginning. Gradually, though, “my” agenda got through to them and they got quiet and started to listen, whether it was to poetry, to reminiscences from their past, or to human interest stories from other people. I guess that could be a pattern at your home, too (since it’s too late for my parents, both passed on).
Work on presenting – and involving them in – a human agenda, something that is more arts- or nature-oriented so you don’t get into religious opinions. Another common activity is writing up a family tree and family history, which I did with my mother. Remind yourself that back a generation or three or however many, your ancestors weren’t fundamentalist. You had a real people in your family tree, people you could have connected in real friendship. Be glad for them. One day you will sleep with your ancestors. This fundamentalist bad dream will be over.
This approach gives us ways to go forward with fundamentalist family members, instead of just treading water and waiting for it to be over. If we are interested in “safe” areas of growth (which wouldn’t lead to religious opinions), we can involve our fundamentalist family members in that. We have to keep growing and exploring and reawakening curiosity and imagination.
When I was a young, my piano teacher married when she and her husband were in their sixties, a first marriage for both. She told me that she and Charles enjoyed going through the Teach Yourself Art Appreciation series authored by John Canaday, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Doing a self-study similar to this might be something to share together. You might find this out-of-print set on Amazon.
I recently was in a humanist book discussion on the book, Thank God for Evolution, by Michael Dowd. Dowd is a former evangelical preacher who finds common ground with evangelicals and liberals on the subject of evolution – reintroducing the sense of awe and wonder on the creative process leading to human beings. In a short video of one of his talks (U-Tube), he remarked that he has no trouble addressing an evangelical audience or a liberal audience, but that an audience mixed with evangelicals and liberals is the audience from hell. I laughed. That is our plight, is it not? A mix of evangelicals and liberals. Keith Olbermann closed his nightly news program with the words, “Good night and good luck.”
Beware of hidden resentment in yourself.
You might have a blockage against sharing with your fundamentalist parents in non-controversial areas. If you have subconscious resentment, then you wouldn’t want to share. Resentment is non-productive. You can also just have burn-out and need to give yourself time away from the scene. Maybe it will be a few years before you try to reconnect on a more creative level with your parents.
Forcing yourself against your will is useless, but sometimes getting started is the hardest part. You may find that if you can get into some project with your parents that you discover depths in them that you didn’t suspect. There can be some surprises. I think that I had subconscious sense of myself as a crazy cat with my parents… certainly not at rest and at peace around them. I’m not sure if I could have worked through to a resolution during those years of visits.
I think I’m still not sure of what the question is, and until I had the question, I couldn’t put energies toward a solution. But this I know, that being passive and doing nothing got me/us nowhere. Maybe there was nowhere to get to, at least a good part of the time. I know that I needed to be happy myself if I was going to have something to give to my parents in a more active sense. I wasn’t happy, though, not for years.
Notice my approach here. I kept digging to try to get to the source of why something was the way it was. I questioned why I didn’t initiate more of the creative type of activities (like watching Cats together) with my parents. Was it passivity in me? Hidden resentment in me? Their doing it to themselves with the unpredictability of when my mother would bring in a religious thought? Burn out in me? Lack of inner happiness in me? Do this.
Go deeper and deeper until you feel a resolution, until you get to an insight. You might not have “the answer,” as I still don’t have a complete answer for why I didn’t pursue more sharing activities with my parents. Maybe the answer will be on multiple levels, including adrenal fatigue. The important thing is to get through roadblocks and come to greater consciousness of your motivations, both conscious and hidden.
This process is what grew this web site. There is no roadmap to how to work out a living arrangement with fundamentalists. Sometimes you may get so frustrated with their impenetrability that you just want to scream…and the temptation then is for you to feel guilty about giving an impatient response or even snapping out at them.
It’s not you, my friend. It’s the struggle to be human among religious clones. They have been set in motion concerning someone who differs with them. They are taught to be loving to enemies for the enemies’ own good, that they might ultimately be brought “to the Lord.” They are also conditioned to be a “sweet fragrance” of Christ to bring you “back to the Lord.” They live surrendered lives and cannot be any different from what they are.
You are not going to hear your fundamentalist say, ”Hey, this person has had it with my religion. Let me can the religion when dealing with him and listen and respond to what he is saying.” It’s not going to happen. You aren’t going to get that human response, so stop trying to get water out of a stone. On the other hand, you have to treat them as human, or you fall into the fundamentalist mindset of the “black sheep vs the white sheep.”
You can be just as prone to feelings of self-righteousness and superiority as they are. Sometimes you just will have no strength to deal with them, and then it’s time to withdraw and lick your wounds for awhile. A friend mentioned that she can’t be around evangelicals. She has no strength to deal with them and doesn’t want to. (When I was an evangelical, I had no idea that folk were probably thinking that about me, too.)
You may have times like that, where there’s nothing left in you to interact with evangelicals, where a shade has come down inside you and you want to move far away…but still you have to live on in the same house or stay local to be the best parent, sibling, or adult child that you need to be. You may see in your fundamentalist relatives a complete disconnection from other people and their feelings.
You may hardly be able to imagine what a family where there is connection could be like. Some of us don’t seem to have solid sea legs when it comes to assessing new relationships, because we haven’t had the experience of a close healthy relationship with either family or with a partner. I remember the sensation of keeping my mouth shut growing up, because I so often felt I was living in the mirror image of what my mind and emotions told me was reality. It was very hard to get a foothold.
If I started to frame an objection, the aggressive response would be immediately forthcoming, about how the opposite view was in fact so. My parents both had better memories than I and listened to right wing TV, which made it harder.
A former fundamentalist living with a fundamentalist parent
You can’t talk and share yourself, but ill comes of not sharing, for it is unnatural to live with someone and not be able to talk. The evangelical is trusting and invariably kind and caring. Meanwhile you can come off as a bit of a curmudgeon out of frustration. You feel like an outsider in your own skin, someone who stands around in silence with your teeth hanging out. Yet, I don’t really feel like that for the most part. I have work to do. I go about my business. I try to see my mother’s love as precious. I try to take care of her as best I can. I attend to her complaints and criticisms. I put the large plastic pieces in the bottom part of the dishwasher and the plastic tops in the top part. I face the blades of the knives down in the drawers. And now and then, a tear runs down my cheek….
How it plays out. I was cheerful with Mom, suggested we take a little walk around the yard, which we did. The dog was with us, a pleasant time. I thought how the earlier emotional moment was just that, my moment of being a drama queen, yet it was also the raw emotions of the situation. Then, back in the house, Mom spoke with her friend and heard about a missionary’s daughter having cancer. I could hear it coming and tried to get out of the kitchen before the phone call ended. From a distance, she called to me and asked if I remembered “X” and proceeded to tell me a bit of the story as I walked away, as semi-politely as I could. I had to later go back to the kitchen, whereupon she continued with how the missionary and his wife had served in a leper colony. Again, I semi-politely left the scene. That’s the scenario….some pleasant, accommodating time, but always the drip-drip-drip of the water torture.
At least, that’s how I used to think of it when I was in my ’20s and ’30s. She never let up, though it certainly could have been worse. Whether I want to hear about the missionary and his family or not, she’d tell me. That was her world.
Sharing your thoughts with a fundamentalist is not always a wise decision. Sometimes, in the framework of a larger disagreement, you may be tempted to articulate simple basic truths about personal integrity and common manners. Articulating these means, invariably, starting a “war,” because you are in effect accusing the fundamentalist of not having personal integrity or common manners. You might not mean to be doing this, but that is how it is interpreted. Then you’re never free of that disagreement again. So be careful of what you say or put in a letter to fundamentalist relatives or other fundamentalists.
Distance is the answer. Stand back, and drop the issue. Beware of being overly compassionate about the fundamentalist’s situation that you get drawn in. Stay in your own business. Evangelical fundamentalist Christians with their “born again” demands cease to be aware of or realize they do not function any longer like real and normal human beings, but by being a human being to these people, a person can become like an enemy of sorts. And what happens to enemies? They have to be conquered!! and in this mindset converted as well!! Tell me again that this is a religion and a faith. I think not.
Work through the subconscious control mechanism of confessing. Our experience in fundamentalism was confessional in nature. We had to repent our sins, perhaps be prayed over at an altar, perhaps testify in public, and share our deepest thoughts in prayer with others. We had no privacy of mind or emotions. Part of outgrowing fundamentalism is to recognize that this sort of confessing is part of their control over us, part of the grid through which we saw the world. We can come to terms with that, once we understand it.
We do not owe it to anyone to share something private that we do not wish to share. Our first loyalty is to ourselves. If we are not first loyal to ourselves, we cannot be loyal to anyone else. Think of confessing as a control. I daresay that if you are from a Roman Catholic background where you had to go to confession regularly, you know it can be a control.
People want to live good lives, but we all fall short of the mark we might set for ourselves. We feel badly about that. Maybe no one else knows of our “failure.” Maybe it’s a deep dark secret. Wouldn’t it feel good to unburden ourselves? To be forgiven? Bingo. Enter the religious control: “You are a sinner. Confess your sins and be forgiven, and we’ll tell you how.” Friend, remind yourself that you are no more than human, and this is what human beings do. Sometimes they muddle through the best they can. They are not perfect, never are. You can forgive yourself for being human. Just accept it, learn from it, and move on to make better choices and be a better person.
We all make mistakes…but as Katie says, “There are no mistakes. If something happened, it was meant to happen. How do we know? It happened. To fight with reality is to lose, only 100% of the time.” (www.theWork.com) You don’t need to fear confessions with the fundamentalist in your life, because you do not have to confess to her. You are your own person, with your own boundaries around you. You are the one who chooses what you will share and what you will not share. You’re not going to get it 100% right, and that’s ok. You’re only human, just like everyone else.
Work through the control mechanism of blaming ourselves. We’re also used to blaming ourselves if something goes wrong. You know the fundamentalist equation: “If something goes wrong, it’s your fault. If something goes right, God did it.” You get no credit. Now you know that we all have our place in the sun. Watch out for the impulse to take the blame on yourself. That’s part of the control mechanism that we have to recognize from fundamentalism and outgrow.
The fundamentalist I live with leaves a note on the table saying “Happy Thanksgiving.” I wish she hadn’t. I wish she would just go on with her life and leave me alone. And then I feel badly with myself for being such a curmudgeon. Bingo. She has me. I’m blaming myself. Instead, this is a healthier scenario: I acknowledge the card, add to it, “same to you,” and go on back to what I was doing. It’s a given that I wish she lived elsewhere. I don’t have to keep repeating that to myself on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, I can be myself, and part of that self is being polite and pleasant, even gracious, to anyone who crosses my path. There are things that we do for our spirit’s sake, and this vigilance to be humane may be one of those things. What we do for our spirit’s sake keeps us turned towards humanity, so that we don’t end up on the low road. It is setting our wills to hold on.
When poet Virginia Hamilton Adair lost her beloved husband to suicide (a total shock), she had to follow her inner compass and keep writing poetry, for her survival as a human being. “I do this for my soul’s sake.” The poem is found in her small book of poetry, Ants on the Melon. What she did for her soul’s sake was a lifeline to her survival in the face of tragedy beyond words. Be conscious of your dignity. That’s a word to explore, dignity…”the state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.” Those around you may not esteem you, but you can esteem yourself. You are worthy. You are honored.
In contrast, when we’re with safe people, trusted friends who care about us and respect our boundaries, we can express our vulnerability and be gathered in. They don’t carry yardsticks with which to measure us after we express ourselves to them. Don’t pursue your fundamentalists.
Leave the door open to those fundamentalists around you but don’t expect much from them and don’t pursue them. Don’t give them “things to read,” etc., unless they come to you and ask. You know that if they read something against their will, they’d read it for what it doesn’t say, not for what it says. Concentrate on yourself, enjoy your own life. You can learn to laugh in that setting. You can relax and find your own music.
Do, however, have your antennae up for possible control issues on their part. Instead of confrontations (which often reflect back in the black/white mindset), ask “why” questions. “Why did you ask that? Why do you feel that way? Could you tell me more, I’m trying to understand.” Of course, if you know what the answer is going to be and that the answer is going to be out of the religious mindset, don’t bother asking the question. Look for the root causes of issues.
With this sort of attitude toward growth, you can learn to name the issues as they come up and you become conscious of them. You might be surprised at some of the areas of growth that you experience. For example, you may come to realize that you feel trapped in the present moment, living indefinitely with evangelicals. You can’t go back. You can’t go forward, and you can’t live with the present. That’s crazy-making. Restore your hope in the future.
You can become a stronger person for coming to understand what you are going through and outgrowing it. You can build a vision of an attractive future and you can know that day by day you can build toward the future. Stop going around in circles, and continue your climb up the mountain. You are made of sterner stuff, good stuff. Rejection hurts. It doesn’t violate your boundaries to have goodwill toward another person, even if that person is an evangelical or a fundamentalist.
Have compassion, and remember that that fundamentalist could have been you. Underneath all the ideology, there is still buried, somewhere, a human being. Sometimes even a human steamroller will one day have an accumulation of loneliness that becomes unbearable and forces that individual to want something better. You’re setting your boundaries and protecting yourself from the encroachment of fundamentalism.
To the fundamentalist who knows no boundaries and is oblivious to yours, your boundaries may be experienced as rejection. Rejection hurts, no matter on what side it is felt. Remember that and be kind…but maintain your boundaries. When you are generous with yourself, you can afford to be generous with others. Tough love can sometimes apply, though.
No one is a mind-reader. The fundamentalists you have to relate with are not mind-readers. They may need to be told what your boundaries are and how they fit in or don’t fit in. You might play a mind game that helps you get through living with a fundamentalist. For example, you might see yourself as living alone, with a stranger renting a room, and both of you going on with their lives, more or less like ships that pass in the night. Ideal? No. Healthy? No. But at least it might get you through if you share this with the fundamentalist.
The fundamentalist gets tipped off to stop trying to be friends or to get you to talk, and less energy is needed by the non-fundamentalist in trying to avoid the fundamentalist and turn down invitations to do this or that. This example is kind of extreme, and I can’t at the moment think of one more ordinary. Just bear in mind that the fundamentalists in our life are not mind-readers. We need to communicate some things if we want resolution.
Be ready with some practiced responses. A handy phrase is “I’m not comfortable with…” “I have my own life and my own interests and would be happy if you would go about your own life and your interests.” I’ve had to quote back the bible verse to a persistent fundamentalist, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed?” You are not alone. This can be tough stuff psychologically and emotionally, but know that you are not alone.
Many of us have trod those paths before you and may still be on them. Seek us out through web sites and blogs, at local groups, and through books and magazines. There are plenty of resources to be found on-line by searching under “recovering fundamentalist,” “recovering Catholic,” and associated phrases. Have a positive orientation. That’s your job.
One thing you might do is each morning to thank yourself for showing up. This is part of self-care, to verbalize that you are loved, that you are worthy, and that you have your place in the sun. With that acknowledgement, start your day. Envision the road stretching ahead. Think about how you can be kind to yourself and do something nice for yourself each day. Keep a record of insights that you come to. This is different from journaling. Record what you learn. Share with us if you think it would be helpful to us. Send notes to me, and I will consider incorporating them on the web site or a blog.
You are on an amazing journey from being a religious insider on to personal freedom. You have been inoculated against religiosity of the far right and can see through their machinations. Would that the rest of the country and world could!
What do you think about bringing in a cult deprogrammer with your family members? Whoa! What’s that?! They are not in a cult, you say. Ah, the deprogramming process can be similar for those coming from the fundamentalist mindset. Years ago, a cult deprogrammer encouraged me to arrange for him to work with my fundamentalist parents, to deprogram them. This would be a version of “tough love.”
Their permission to work with him would not have been sought ahead of time. I couldn’t do it, out of respect for my parents. Could he have “deprogrammed” them? Who knows, but one thing I did know was that if the deprogramming didn’t work, a fissure would form and would split our relationship apart. I couldn’t take that chance. Further, I believed that they had a right to their own lives and their own opinions, even if I disagreed with some of their core choices and even felt those choices were harmful to them.
I may be more inclined to take a more aggressive stance if my child was involved in some cult, however. That’s a very individual thing and a tough call for parents. Deprogramming doesn’t always work, and the offspring are lost to the family. Other times, the offspring are most grateful for the intervention. There are books on this subject – see References.
My parents were happy in their fundamentalist religion. They had friends and satisfactions. They were good people before the religion and good (but sometimes trying) people afterwards. They were not weirdos. I have good memories of both of them and feel closer to them in death. All that said, would my choice have been that they had never found their way to a fundamentalist church when they were about 30? You bet your life.
But I still wouldn’t have tried to override their commitments. I do wonder how the deprogrammer would have done his thing, though. A reminder of the depth of potential trauma. Leaving a fundamentalist church can be traumatic, even when people are pleasant. You may have gone through some of this trauma. If your parents or spouse were to seek their freedom, they could also face psychological trauma.
To speak up about leaving the religion…and announce at the same time that one is gay…That’s doubly traumatic. I remember a gay person saying that go just below the surface with many gays and you will find deep hurt and scarring compliments of religious fundamentalists. I had a brief experience as part of a group of Silent Witnesses with rainbow umbrellas serving as a buffer between people attending a Gay Pride parade and some rabid fundamentalists. A Martian would have no trouble picking out where the dark clouds of ugly emanated from.
My parents and I maintained a relationship through the years. I survived and was able to be a good daughter to my parents because we loved each other non-verbally and mostly kept away from controversial subjects. We each knew that the other would be there for us if needed. We were able to enjoy activities together, such as traveling and watching videos of Mario Lanza, Denise Graves, and Andrea Bocelli, all of whom sang operatic and sacred songs.
Despite that, the losses were great in our family due to fundamentalism and many times the relationships were bleak, in my perception if not in theirs. I hung in year after year, loving as I could, even though looking forward to the day when fundamentalists would be out of my life. I remembered a minister or some evangelical leader saying that only death will solve some problems. I could relate to that and didn’t try to change things that I knew couldn’t be changed.
I also remember a minister saying that you could choose your choices but not the results of your choices. If you chose to surrender your life, then “X, Y, and Z” went along with those choices. I figured, why get upset with “X, Y, or Z” when my parents had no choice about those results of their initial surrender. I did much better when I accepted what was and worked around it. And my parents tried to do the same with me, I think. They didn’t agree with a lot that I thought or did, but they still kept the door open and loved me and wanted my company.
As the years went by, I never had any doubt that my parents would rather that I be sitting next to them in church than that I won a Nobel Prize. I knew that but went on with my life, not depending on their approval. Even though my life was so different from theirs, I knew that they trusted me and loved me as best as they could, given, of course, that they couldn’t join in my thoughts or opinions.
I understood it as one of the common tragedies of fundamentalism that my parents and I could not enjoy a mother-daughter or father-daughter relationship where we could all be open minded and talk about anything. That wasn’t going to happen, and never did happen. I would have loved to have really had a parent I could talk to. They didn’t have room for me, though, the religion filled them up.
I was the visiting caretaker for my mother during the last years of her life. I visited her assisted living facility more days than not for several years and did for her as I could. Sometimes it was tough, the expenditure of energy and time given for something that seemed almost purposeless and where sometimes I had to deal with a contrary elder. Her physical situation was difficult, but she bore it with fortitude. Especially toward the last year or so of her life, I know that she appreciated my visiting and said from time to time what a good daughter I was to her.
At that time, I saw aspects of my mother that I wouldn’t have once guessed possible. Our relationship was the best it had ever been, although she was still in a fundamentalism that occasionally made itself felt. After so many years of programming, she wasn’t suddenly going to be able to fully participate in a mother-daughter relationship, nor could she really claim even her own life, but there were glimpses of the person she might have become.
In her last days, she never mentioned going to heaven and seeing my father and brother. Rather, her vision seemed to turn to this earth. Two or three weeks before she passed, we were sitting quietly in her room, her dozing, me reading. At one point she woke up and said, “I have been thinking about life.” “Oh? What have you been thinking, Ma?” And then she spoke slowly, “I love life. I love life. I love life. I love life.” Oh, Ma, if you could only have lived your life….
At the end, I had a glimpse of what our relationship might have been … and how her religion put walls up between the people in this family. You have enough to be angry about? Better to say, “That’s life. Fundamentalism is all over the place. Let me be a light for humanity.” On another day when she awoke during her afternoon dozing, she turned to me and said, “Well, let’s go.” “Where do you want to go, Mom?” “Anywhere!” was her response before falling back to sleep.
I celebrate that spirit, that human spirit that was present from the beginning and just got overlaid and overlaid and overlaid with fundamentalism. My mother’s last days I could watch her as I watched television when she was difficult, enjoy non-verbal experiences with her such as watching the geese at the pond and listening to her favorite Andrea Bocelli on DVDs, and be there for her in as many ways as I could as her medical advocate and caretaker.
Then, quite to my surprise, the last few months of her life, she mellowed and turned toward life and stopped talking about religion. In the last few months of her life, I felt as if I got at least part of my mother back. The church didn’t get all of her after all. I have my mother’s high school graduation picture on my bureau, and I salute the young woman who faced the world with such trust, good humor, and hope. I feel like saying to her, “You go, girl!”
Then I remember that she got saved around age 30, and her life was nipped in the bud. I remember the bewilderment she expressed, perhaps in her 50s, when she reflected, “I used to have a sense of humor. I don’t know what happened to it.”
On being a caretaker for an elderly fundamentalist parent in declining health
Understand that you will get weary, and it is understandable why you would feel so weary. It’s what we get when we are required to do duty without meaning. Your parents may become that in your life if their decline is prolonged. Pick up your own life and free your mind as much as you can. Take in the sun and all the lovely colors of the earth in bloom and know that’s what’s true about you, your mind and heart. On an elder being affected by dementia Maybe he or she will be a bit more human without the mind that evangelical Christianity ruined.
THE PRICE OF FUNDAMENTALISM TO INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES
Where was my mom during the decades that we couldn’t talk? I don’t think she ever knew that we couldn’t talk. She had her own agenda that whole time, and if she had to chase me (metaphorically speaking) to tell me the latest news about yet another missionary she was donating to, then she’d do it. Who was this person? A clone? A ghost? What did this ghost allow to be done to my father, to my brother?
My brother told me about a dream he had. He was on the moon, headed for hell, and our mother was on the earth. He needed a kind human word, but she kept preaching to him.
My mother cooperated fully in her own dissolution and called it her faith or her religion. She dissolved her feelings and, in the name of her faith and her religion, replaced the values that so many millions died for in WWII. That replacement and loss is what is in front of us today in fundamentalism and threatening all of us.
Tragically, she willingly dissolved her own human foundation, so that she could not feel or even recognize or remember the love my father expressed for her when he returned from the war or be conscious of the lack of communication with her only daughter. Her best memory of my father, as she told me after he died, was that he would come into the kitchen in the morning singing hymns. That stunned me.
This is the extent of what was taken, what was destroyed in the mental, emotional, and cultural control system of what she called her faith and her religion. She didn’t care to know that she had been destroyed as an individual, used as fodder for an agenda that is a desecration of human life. She didn’t care to know that the human values that gave her freedom were turned by her faith and her religion to destroy that freedom, to destroy herself and so many worldwide.
The communication necessary to triumph over this evil, and it is evil in the worst way, is going to be within ourselves. As human beings we have to begin in our own lives to find new ways to see and understand our emotions, feelings, and values that are being used against us. Take the empathy and emotion of compassion human beings feel. These emotions are just an example of what is used on human beings to manipulate them by what looks like innocence. No longer can these simple criteria be used if what is human in us is going to survive. Where was I supposed to learn how to deal with this? From school? From religion?
REFLECTIONS RELATING TO SOCIETY
Some of these thoughts will be on the rough side. I could leave them out, but then I think of the cost of fundamentalism to families and to the larger society. From the outside, my own birth family looks ideal and indeed, my parents were good people – but from the inside of the family, the suffering and human cost were enormous.
The fundamentalists were oblivious, but the recovering fundamentalist, the writer of this web site, deeply knew the costs. Then I think of a friend who recently mentioned that she had left a “mean-spirited” fundamentalist group and family and struck out on her own… at 17. You and I can only imagine what drove her to leave all behind and how lost she must have been for who knows how long. I think of the Gay Pride events where strident fundamentalists shout ugly and hateful things at gay attendees and their children… and of the funerals of gay service people where they picket and display ugly placards.
I think of these things, and I know these things are real, that the human cost within both nice families/groups and within mean-spirited families/groups can be huge – and so I leave in these reflections. You will see whether or not they seem to apply to your relatives and your former church. Even if you think not, we all know that these things are real for many fundamentalists and for many recovering fundamentalists, to say nothing of our country and the wider world.
THE REAL COST OF FUNDAMENTALISM AS REFLECTED IN FAMILY COMMUNICATION
Communicating with fundamentalists is a minefield. So often there appears to be a cognitive disconnect, as responses by fundamentalists to what you say are inappropriate and not in line with “human talk.” It’s as if you are talking to a ghost who has lost the touch of communicating with an ordinary human being. The fundamentalist “ghost” has cooperated tragically and fully in her own dissolution and calls it her faith or her religion.
She has allowed others to call her humanity evil, and she has done that to herself as well. The ghost has dissolved her own feelings and dissolved her human foundation. The ghost may no longer remember human love as she acts to bring other members of her family, community, and world into total surrender to her ideology. You could be a fine communicator, with honed communication skills, but no one could reach the ghost. Nothing from your education, from our country, from religion, from anywhere has given you avenues and realities to deal with such a phenomenon. The ghost is beyond touch and beyond connection, having opted out of the ordinary human race and its values. The ghost cannot recognize real human love in what you extend.
The values that are the foundation of our country, values that millions gave their lives for in World War II, have been replaced and lost in favor of missionary zeal in the war for souls and for control. You are viewed as the enemy, and no accommodation can be given to the enemy. This is the extent of what is taken, what is destroyed in the mental, emotional, and cultural control system of what she calls her faith and her religion.
And she doesn’t care to know that she has been destroyed as an individual, used as fodder for an agenda that is a desecration of human life. She has been given freedom by the blood of those who fought for our freedom, and she uses that freedom to turn to destroy freedom for others and to destroy herself and so many worldwide. You remember the famous photo from World War II, where the returning soldier grabs a stranger and kisses her with exuberance and joy in the streets of New York? Take any similar match up with warrior and hometown young woman. A kiss, a victory salute, home at last. Fast forward 30 years.
Our anonymous soldier got “saved” after the war. His emotions have been flattened. He has left behind and barely remembers the exuberance of his homecoming and the end of the war. Now more important things claim his attention. A war represents just a drop in the bucket of time. Saving a soul counts for all eternity. The anonymous soldier has passed from his former human foundation to now applying his energies against the very freedom for which he fought.
Now, his hopes and prayers are aligned with taking over the world for Christ, with spreading the “good news” about how one can surrender a sinful human foundation and take on the mind of Christ, the “good news” about how one can surrender one’s independence and personality and become a beetle, the same as everyone else in that ideology. He would never, never kiss a strange woman in the streets for any reason.
He has lost that part of himself, that facility to experience joy and exuberance over mere “human” freedom. The freedom he cares about now is the freedom to carry his ideology wherever he wants across the world. He may not go as a missionary himself, but he will send his dollars. The sign in his church parking lot as he exits reads, “You are now entering the mission field.”
This is not America as we know it, a democracy where minority voices are protected. This is America-the-mission-field, seen as ripe for the plucking. This is the larger picture of what you are dealing with in the fundamentalists in your life. This is the picture of the threat to our world by the rise of rigid fundamentalist ideologies. What to do?
I think the communication that will be necessary to triumph over this evil, and it is evil in the worst way, is going to be within ourselves. As human beings we have to begin in our own lives to find new ways to see and understand our emotions, feelings and values that are being used against us. Innocent-appearing manipulations are going on in our society to make empathy and the emotion of compassion feel bad.
What is good in humane terms is presented as bad. I could go so easily over into political diatribe here, but that is not the objective of this web site. We have to be clear on what the values of real humanity are, in contrast to the ghostly values of a surrendered life. We need to practice thinking this through and recognizing daily examples of these mirror-image universes not only in our families but in our world.
No longer can those simple criteria for what is good or compassionate be used if what is human in us is going to survive. Look at your mother, at your father, at your spouse, and you know it is a truth. You know that there is emotional and intellectual disconnect there and that they dwell in another place entirely. We can grow to the point where we being to counter the tripwires from the past in communicating with our fundamentalist family members, begin to tell them the truth about what they have done and are doing, and about the humane values we believe in.
There is no room in this system for being polite. This is a counter-control that is the only path to commanding our human resources in this destructive human agenda. This is the reality of trying to be and communicate with a fundamentalist. You are dealing foremost with the fundamentalist, not with a person who is your mother, your father, your sibling, your spouse, or a member of your extended family.
Fundamentalists have willingly cooperated in their own dissolution and what is left is the ghost, the surrendered automaton bent on victory over the dark forces (including human freedom of thought and feeling), for the sake of “the Lord.” “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.”
The fundamentalists will wage a holy war to bring on that kingdom. Your relatives and mine. Your ghosts and mine. What the local fundamentalists of course do not reckon with is the drive for money, power, and control behind this holy war and the willingness on the part of many leaders to let the ends justify the means. That is not on their radar, nor would they investigate alternative news sources.
As the speaker at the “Focus on the Family broadcast” proudly confirmed, “Our people don’t read newspapers. They are too busy caring for their families.” When recovering fundamentalists (you) cannot be controlled Many fundamentalist family members are not happy when we are not within their control. In such cases, their communication patterns can have a quiet but lethal force.
These patterns are part of what communicating with the “other” means in the evangelical/fundamentalist mindset. You are that “other” to your fundamentalist relatives. When you assert yourself or your opinion in some way, you may experience that your fundamentalist relative puts you down. Such a put down shows the hypocrisy of their “christian love” and it shows you the dehumanizing force of their communication in its manufacture of hurt and guilt.
Your relative may wield this force at you in either a quiet revenge for being “other” or to make it clear to those in her orbit, or those she wants in her orbit that, even though you may be her son-daughter-spouse, you are not and she does not give you that place. You are the black sheep, the outsider. Your continuing to be loving and give her what she does not and will not grant you is only one measure of how much you will have learned about being a real human being, a good human being.
What is spirituality? It is being a good human being. On the anger of fundamentalist relatives You may have to bear up under so much that you so dislike — possibly even hate — especially when you are the subject and object of a mind, maybe an old mind. You may hate all the inhuman righteousness, the criticisms and blame for a human world that was destroyed inside the fundamentalist a long time ago.
You can be human in relation to these people who are no longer and can’t function as human beings. The concept of an underlying fundamentalist anger is not one we hear much about. Reflections on elderly fundamentalist parents Just think about what your fundamentalist parents’ brains have been doing most of their lives, what they have been processing and how they have learned to get people and the world around them to be what they want them and it to be.
Maybe they have learned all kinds of manipulations and subterfuges. To me that’s just one characteristic of religion, especially any kind of fundamentalism. They will do what they will do because there’s not much that can get into those same brains. They may not see anything further than this minute, but that’s to be expected as health declines and age advances…and from perhaps a lifetime of not seeing anything further than their godly certainties.
They really believe themselves to be of the chosen and it doesn’t matter what they do to other peons. Very sad, indeed, but consistent. Fundamentalism at its core People in America have to go about dealing with all the supernatural garbage and destruction that evangelical/fundamentalist christianity heaps onto this culture.
Out of respect for “faith” no one says anything, the media can say nothing. Everyone is muzzled emotionally, pitted against their better judgments, pitted against their own humanity. Respect, like freedom, is used by these people as a weapon, like how they are using our democracy, how all the other minds controlled and enslaved by “faith” are using these human ideals as weapons.
And why do we have to be respectful of this? You see and experience on a family scale what that christian faith is doing with all of us who are not them. There’s no heart there, there’s none of what others learned from their non-fundamentalist parents or from a mainline church (including non-fundamentalist parts of the Catholic church) about being part of the living human race all etched in the image and likeness of God.
It’s why you’ve had to fight your way to an understanding of being a human being. It’s why you are invisible and, very likely in the bottom of your parents’ indoctrination and control, why they hate you, something they cannot even acknowledge or know about in themselves. There is no self, as you know well.
So, I ask where is the respect here? It’s in you only. If you give it or if you don’t it will make no difference because, tragically, your relatives are not people, not free and with minds that are controlled utterly. The only connection is biology. But then that’s true about the animal kingdom, but it’s not true about machines of flesh and blood, [such as these automatons].
Your relatives and their “faith” have become this, are this. What is it going to take before the people of America and the people of the world can say this? What is it going to take before these destructive faiths are either history or transformed into what they pretend to be?
On the death of a fundamentalist parent
Your life may feel completely different for you when your fundamentalist parents are gone. Perhaps it will be the first time in your life that you will be free of all of that. It’s really an honest and tragic picture of what that “faith” does to humanity in every person, with, as you may so clearly know, the lie it creates out of the organic base of human relationship. This is a human crime and I doubt that such a faith should be allowed to perpetuate for too much longer.
And you, you, my dear? Within yourself, you want to come to a state, confident and in control of yourself. Don’t think in terms of superiority, because there but for the grace…go you. You were once dogmatic and rigid yourself. If there was hope for you, there’s hope for them, perhaps very dim hope but hope nevertheless. Be comfortable in your own skin. Be your own person.
When you have that self-confidence, it will radiate to those around you. They will not be able to tame you. You will be marching to your own drummer. You don’t have to shun the fundamentalists in your life or be shunned by them. You can treat them kindly with consideration, even as you go on with your own life. They will no longer be obstacles to you.
“Laistrygonians, Cyclops, Wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
Unless you bring them along inside your soul,
Unless your soul sets them up in front of you.”
– C.P. Cavafy, 1910, from the poem “Ithaka”
You will know that your home is within you and that, no matter who else lives in the house, you carry your own music within you.