BUT IT CAN.
|20-year old me on September 6, 2003, on the day I was baptized. In that pool. Let the chlorine wash away your sins and get up your nose. There are sins in there.|
Over the past couple years, I've emerged from political apathy and come to accept and embrace the fact that I was no longer the conservative (or increasingly moderate) Christian I saw myself as from about age 12 to age 30. By that I mean I now pay attention to political issues and even voted for the first time in my life, on anything, ever, in 2014. A little embarrassing perhaps seeing as I spent my entire existence up to that point convinced that voting was pointless, ineffective, and therefore futile to engage in, but I guess also a good thing in that I didn't leave a Republican voting record in my wake. Yay?
Unfortunately it took some major personal trauma to shake me out of the bubble of privilege I'd been comfortably occupying up to that point and develop some understanding and empathy for people hailing from different walks of life. But 18 years of trying and failing to live up to whatever gilded Christian ideal I (and others) had set up for myself, in a misguided endeavor to be righteous and pure and a super beacon of holiness or whatever the hell I was going for, was never going to be traded away easily. And as a person who currently tries to advocate for progressive and feminist issues, I try to remember where the other side is coming from, because I can't just pretend I didn't spend a giant chunk of my life in that exact same mental space. And it's a surprisingly difficult cognitive dissonance nightmare sometimes. More on that later.
So how did all of that come about? Becoming a follower of 7 lb 5 oz baby Jesus, and then pulling some big ol' take-backsies. There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Most people guessed I was simply raised in a Christian family. Yeah, no. I wasn't instilled with any particular religious beliefs, or lack thereof, growing up. Was never hauled to church or given a family Bible, purity ring, or chastity belt and accompanying crushing guilt/shame accessory. If anything, going to church was the most rebellious thing I ever did as a child, because my parents didn't really approve, if that gives you an idea of how lame I was. I just decided, somewhere in the mix of bullying and frustration of junior high, that I didn't want to be like the other kids who gave me endless flak for being a natural born "prude", "goody two-shoes", "teacher's pet" and whatever other projections of rage you're subjected to when you excel at school and don't act like a huge asshole to teachers and other authority figures. Yes, I hated kids when I myself was a kid. Being a prude never earned me any popularity points among my peers, but I scored black belt teacher's pet status on the regular. Oh, you thought you were a teacher's pet? Check this action out:
In my junior high health class, we had gone through several teachers, replacement teachers, and replacements for those teachers, because the entire class thought it was hilarious to be intentionally difficult, not follow directions, and harass the teacher to the point of actual tears as much as possible every day. Except for dorklord 14-year old me, of course. And I wasn't spared their wrath either, being called anorexic ten times a day as per usual at that point in my life (when the teacher put on a video about eating disorders, one kid just turned around, stared at me and guffawed), and finding myself laughed at by other girls because I was the only one in the class who didn't bully and make fun of the socially awkward homeschooled kid. "Do you LIKE him?!", they'd ask me incredulously, predictably mistaking my politeness for flirting and just generally being offended by my insufferable niceness. I couldn't possibly tell you why the entire class wasn't given detention or sent to the office and/or directly to hell; my only real goal in junior high health was to talk as little as possible so as not to draw attention to myself. Anyway, I got this cool note from the teacher for basically not being a big fat turd.
So my natural predilection for prudery (I wasn't into underage drinking or getting teen pregnant so any faint hopes of being cool were dashed), combined with my inability to rationalize how the universe could have come from nothing (see: appeal to complexity), made Christianity appealing to my beleaguered child brain. Not only that, but finally, here was a group of people who didn't say I was wrong or weird for not going full raspberry-blowing heathen. In fact, they said it was great to not be a jerk, to not imbibe of the libations or do the sexing. Also, Jesus said to accept everyone, so they pretty much couldn't give me the regular nerd-shun treatment. Ha! Suck on that.
And so began my journey with the Lord, and that is why you see only one set of footprints, for it was then that Jesus went to the beach while I was all up on his shoulders like SPRIIING BREEEAAAK (Amen). But where did it all go wrong? Lots of little things accumulated over time, which weren't enough individually to make Miss Truebeliever stray from the righteous path of righteousness. But treated as a whole, it was the straw that broke the camel's back so it couldn't go through the eye of a needle anymore, as the saying goes (gross).
Like when I attended a girls' youth group in college at the tender age of 18. One of the girls was married, and mentioned this frequently. "Ohhh, you're already maaaaarriiiieeed," the other girls swooned. "You're so luuuuucky." Yes, fresh out of high school she had already checked off the grandest achievement of all for any God-fearing female. Nevermind the fact that younger age at first marriage is consistently correlated with higher divorce rates. The good Lord ordained that thou shalt cleave to thy wife rather than burn in lust, and these ladies had, uh... cleavage on the brain. Even at 18 and in a relationship at the time, everyone's utter awe and marvel at this alleged miraculous feat evoked some subconscious internal eye-rolling.
Then there was my women's Bible study group. For a while I attended a Bible study at some lady's house with several other ladies a couple years into college. I don't remember much about the whole experience other than I fell asleep during our meetings at least once, and one time when everyone was discussing what books they were reading, the host posed this query: "I always forget. Is fiction the one that's NOT true?" Wowee wow wow, and you're the leader of this group? After hearing that I couldn't bring myself to attend women's Bible study at her house ever again. And trust me, the sad reality of a Bible study leader not being able to tell fiction from non-fiction wasn't lost on me.
And who could forget the, oh I don't know, raging homophobia, procreation worship, abortion hatred, proud ignorance of science, utterly fragile sensibilities, and all the other cringe-inducing attitudes I regularly encountered at church and among Christ's loving followers. Even though I hated almost everything about the actual teachings of Christianity for quite some time, all the average believer needed to accept it was "because God said so", like a lazy parent who can't be bothered to answer their kid's 500 questions -- and mostly because they don't even have a good answer; they just want you to act a certain way and shut the hell up about it. After sitting in church and thinking "What on earth am I even doing here?", one day I left and never came back.
Prayer is a truly bizarre concept as well, looking back. Be sure to pray about everything, and the Bible says that God will answer your prayers. Except for when he doesn't, but God works in mysterious ways, or something. And pray by yourself so you don't show off, like Matthew 6:6 tells you. But then act like celebrities and athletes are heroes for thanking God as loudly and publicly as possible for everything they get. Here's a really cool back-and-forth that happened: "I prayed about it, and I think God wants me to do this." "Well I prayed about it, and I think God wants you to do the opposite of that." That shit's enough to make anyone ragequit their religion. In all my years of trying to be a Level 100 Super Christian, I really didn't feel any connection to the divine or feel like any prayers were answered. Which is probably because there wasn't and they weren't. Occam's Razor, you say? No dummy, PRAY HARDER.
But perhaps the most obnoxious issue of all came in the form of something I like to call "out-pruding". Which is when other Christians try to make you feel bad about your current level of prudishness, and suggest that if you were a better Christian you would try way harder to be an even bigger prude. Given that at this time, I never swore, never drank, never smoked or did any drugs whatsoever, and decided I was going to wait until marriage, I thought I had this prude business down. How could you possibly complain about someone who never did anything traditionally considered "naughty", I reasoned? I had checked off every prude column to the nth degree, and nobody but nobody could out-prude me. LOL WRONG!
You see, in the Christian world, I encountered plenty of people who always thought that no matter what you're doing, you're not doing enough. You go to church? You should be tithing more money to the church. You don't do sex things with your boyfriend? You shouldn't even hug your boyfriend in front of other people. Or be in a room alone together. You don't swear, aren't violent, and don't sleep around? You had better not even watch movies with swearing, violence, or sex in them. All of these and more were actual complaints I received from my ever helpful then-boyfriend and his relentlessly judgmental family. Nothing like the endless love of the Lord.
I never dated a Christian again. Which was also in no small part because even self-identifying "Christian" men regularly rolled their eyes at my above-and-beyond prude level. Even among supposed fellow Christians I was the fucking weirdo who couldn't do anything right, apparently.
These days, I have toned down my prudish tendencies. I started swearing so I could sing more songs at karaoke with f-words in them (weeee!), and it felt goddamn amazing. I no longer believe it's even remotely wrong to be living in a "den of iniquity" (lolol) with your partner before marriage. At this point, I don't think legal marriage is even necessary at all. And given all that... I am STILL the biggest freaking prude my age that I know. To this day, I have never consumed alcohol, smoked or done drugs. If I really wanted to endlessly scrutinize others the way I was put under a microscope for all those years, I could sit here feeling super smug about out-pruding everyone around me, appoint myself to the ranks of the Fun Police and tell everyone how wrong they are for watching any movie with a rating higher than PG, having a beer now and then, or smoking some weeds. But I don't, because engaging in various allegedly horrific behaviors I was warned against in hushed tones has not destroyed my life. At all. And it's also none of my business what other people do, unless they specifically request my opinion about something they would like help with.
But I'm sure the problem was that 18 years of being failed by my beliefs wasn't enough. If I had read more Bibley stuff, donated more money to the church so they could spend more time indoctrinating people with outdated, impractical admonitions, or stopped hugging my boyfriend like a brazen hussy, things would've worked out. Pray for me.