I walked into the youth chapel at the church. Something was different: there was a box of donuts on a folding table in the center of the room. All of us descended on it eagerly. There were some kids who had such strict parents that they did not get to eat sugar. They were the most deflated. I stared into the box, taking in donut after donut- glazed, creme filled, maple bar- all varieties with one common theme. A big bite had been taken from each one. Dejected, we slumped in our chairs. No one was willing to risk eating a communal donut. We had all been warned about the dangers of sharing food a million times over. We did not want herpes from a donut, no sir. We were adept at going with out. We had already gone without dancing (the prom), learning science, eating meat, reading novels, watching movies, or any of the long list of things that were not allowed. The youth pastor finally entered the room like a Vegas magician, so proud of his show. I could tell he was really revving up for this one. He looked around the room, then focused his eyes on me. “Once you are touched, no one will want you. No one will marry you. No one wants to eat a donut that someone else already took a bite from. They throw it away.”
The other kids looked at me curiously. If they did not know, now they did. I was the donut. I was touched, I was impure, and he knew it. I was raped by someone the guy knew, and here he was telling me God thought I was a disposable tissue now in front of everyone. He went on and on about the virtues of virginity while I had that sensation of being swallowed by the floor.
His words began to melt together. I got up, and left the chapel. I did not return. I think that was the last time I went to the church. I grew up. I met people who did not think that being a virgin was a prerequisite for being a good person. I told myself a million times that the metaphor was boring and stupid, but still, at night I would dream of it. I would feel unworthy. I would remember what he said in painful detail, and how he looked right at me in a room of teenagers to say it. It felt staged just to point out to the holy kids that I was not. It speaks to the education on abstinence. If someone loses their hymen, we need to believe they still are worthy. Virginity as a commodity is foolish, and makes vulnerable people more so out of the shame society levels on them. Who wants to raise their hand in the chapel to say they are the donut? Originally appeared on Leaving Fundamentalism
My meaningless diploma
Every time I apply for a job I have a pang of fear. Some jobs want to check your references. I am not afraid because I have a criminal history. I am afraid because my whole high school experience was a fraud. You see, I was home schooled. At first, I had big, thick text books with spines that smelled nice. I didn’t mind this as much, even though I was mostly left to my own devices to do my school work. I wanted to be smart. Discipline was not an issue. I wanted to go to college. I now see my naivety. I should have paid more attention when church members kindly informed me that college wasn’t for me or that god had other plans… Before long, my mother had switched the whole curriculum up. I now was to do ACE which came in shockingly simplistic booklets, called PACEs. I was told it was much better, and I could work at my own pace. PACEs, get it? So for three years I stared at the PACEs, carefully filling in bubbles with my number two pencil. I can’t explain the boredom. I can’t explain the anger I felt with every depiction of a submissive woman making dinner. The curriculum featured multiple choice questions with only one right answer. There was no critical thinking involved. I particularly hated the comic strips. I was in high school, and there was a cartoon man at the bottom of every page letting me know his thoughts on my obedience! There was always some moral to be found. Every subject was related back to the bible in the most annoying way. image: http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/files/2013/11/screen-shot-2013-11-24-at-15-56-20.png
Notice how the woman is in the kitchen drying the dishes, while the men have been out fixing stuff. In PACEs, women are always illustrated doing traditionally ‘feminine’ activities.My sex education was a picture of a chicken and an egg. I suppose I did not need the chicken picture as I had already learned about the birds and the bees from upstanding members of the community who liked raping young girls. I am sure that the isolating nature of the program helped make me even more vulnerable. I was so lonely. Most of the other homeschoolers I was around were younger than me. It was a much smaller pool to draw friends from than a traditional school. When an adult man decided he was my boyfriend, I was flattered. Even after he started abusing me, I made excuses to myself because I wanted to believe him when he said he loved me. His family was viewed favorably in the church, as was his behavior. This adult man was allowed to be baptized with me in the context of a relationship. I can’t imagine now, as an adult, condoning an illegal relationship. At the time I didn’t see it that way, but that is why there are laws regarding this; it is never okay for an adult man to be in a sexual relationship with a minor. Of course, this is making ACE a spoke on a wheel of issues that surround fundamentalism. image: http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/files/2013/11/screen-shot-2013-11-24-at-16-01-30.png
ACE’s emphasis on modesty contributes to a culture of victim blaming and rape apology.Fundamentalists taught me from a young age to be compliant at every turn. They taught me to fear the outside world. They taught me that men are always superior. They taught me that if something is shameful, shut the fuck up. Suffering is a virtue. I could suffer so much I deserved a cross. I took pride in how much I could take without crying. What else could I do? The adults had chosen this whole life style for me. The point of my homeschooling was to further isolate me from “worldly” things. I think that is true for a lot of homeschooled children. I don’t believe that parents should be able to make this choice for their children. Teachers have to go through years of college to learn how to educate. Why do we allow someone to control a child’s education simply because they could procreate? Every child deserves meaningful education. They deserve science and math. They deserve to learn social skills.
Fundamentalists truly believe it is their duty to teach that only their world view is relevant. Every other world view is wrong and anti-god. The only education that truly matters to them is Bible-related. Everything else is “of men” and not necessary. It is too bad that what is not necessary often includes science, world history, and sex education. My educator took it one step further – anything that disagreed with the brand of fundamentalism I was raised to believe in was blacked out with a marker. I later read about how the Taliban does that. I read about the publics’ outrage and thought, this happens right here. Society allows black markers to be used in limiting an already limited education! It is protected under a proud banner of religious freedom. Should religious freedom involve allowing children to be taught outrageous lies as truth?
Every member of a civilized society deserves the ability to fill out a job application without dread that the education chosen for them will come back to haunt them. They should be able to make an educated decision about whether they want to be cut off from society or not as adults. Exposing children to only one opinion robs them of the ability to learn how to make good decisions as adults. Trying to merge with society when you have been willfully ill prepared is fraught with difficulties. It also seems just plain wrong. When I did graduate, I took the paper my mother had printed to the local college. I tried to get a scholarship with my high marks. I was denied. They would not recognize my diploma as legitimate. I had taken no standardized tests, even the SATS. The years of scribbling feverishly in PACES meant nothing. It felt like god was laughing at me. I was again comforted by members of the church that as a woman, I didn’t need college anyway. Why, soon I would be bouncing a baby on either knee! Of course, no good christian boy my age would want me as I was damaged goods. An older man might be interested…. Of course, older men were always my problem.
There are days when the enormity of my own ignorance staggers me. I mispronounce a word which is caught by my conversation partner and the rest of the day idiot rings in my head. Sometimes I torture myself by reading author bios, skimming to the part where they list their degrees. Recently I was asked on twitter what I majored in college. Nothing. I know college is not the only place people gain knowledge, but when I step back once more it is where did you go to high school? When is your reunion? Nowhere. Nothing. Every once in a while, a young actress or athlete will win an award. The media is ablaze with the fact that they were homeschooled. Memes pop up on my social media about how much better it is to be homeschooled. Just look at what so and so accomplished at age 15! They always leave out the part where the celebrity was educated by actual teachers. All homeschool is not equal. image: http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/files/2017/06/William_Shakespeare_1609-e1497447951348-1024x883.jpg
The Flower portrait of William Shakespeare. Artist Unknown. Public domain.In my experience with the fundamentalist homeschool community, the number one goal was repression of knowledge. My homeschool curriculum, Accelerated Christian Education, was designed for children to work alone, in silence. No teacher required because there is nothing to learn beyond the lessons harped on during the frequent church services. At the time, I worried about being able to get into college because ACE is unaccredited. I was told by church members that god had other plans for me. I didn’t have other plans, though! I had been homeschooled, in church schools and public school by the time high school (with ACE) rolled around. I had a certain amount of pride in my intellect, as only a young person can have. I wasn’t the pretty one, I wasn’t the athletic one, but I was smart. Too bad smart is the worst thing a girl can be in the fundamentalist community. Polite, obedient, modest… those were the words drilled into me. That was what I needed to learn so that I could marry a righteous man and follow his holy guidance. Education suppression is having your religious curriculum censored even further by a big black marker on all the lines that disagree with your parent’s religion. It is a curriculum that is unaccredited. It is being taught lies instead of basic science. It is getting straight A’s in the curriculum and then having your parent alter your grades lower because they worry if someone comes to check up on them-say a social worker- no one will believe that you were capable of straight A’s (even though to my knowledge, a social worker never came to check on our progress). It is a government that allows parents near unchecked control of a child’s education so they can exercise their religious freedom. With the religious freedom, they work hard to make certain their children are unprepared for the world outside. It keeps the church community strong, because it limits options.
I found Shakespeare this month. I had heard the name, of course, and I even watched a movie adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I definitely did not read him in high school. I never read him. Whenever he would come up in conversation, I would claim not to like Romeo and Juliet because I heard they die. I had been repeating that bit of tripe since I was a teen trying to hide my own lack of knowledge. I’ve spent time trying to fill in more obvious gaps, like watching The Simpsons. It turns out that without basic shared small talk, it is difficult to develop friendships that can eventually go deeper.
It started with a novel starring Shakespeare and Marlowe (another author I was not familiar with). It was an unabashedly fun adventure book, full of spies and witches and the crafting of Macbeth. But the best part was the footnotes. So many footnotes. I found myself laying the book across my lap googling different things. It was like having an adventure written into an adventure book. I fired up my kindle and downloaded Shakespeare and Marlowe. I plan on reading them both, and then rereading the novel (License to Quill by Jacopo della Quercia) with my new knowledge. In one of the post homeschool groups I am part of, someone asked how long we would be mourning our childhoods. Every day we can find more evidence of what we have lost, and sometimes the gap between where we are and where we want to be seems so large. I think there is no way to make what has already happened right. But we can work one layer at a time, catching ourselves in our cover ups of ignorance. Instead of mourning that ignorance, we can choose to get Shakespeare or a book of forbidden science, or take a deep breath and go on a date. We can choose to be a little more honest with ourselves, and the world. I make mistakes all the time. I try to hold myself accountable, a little more each year, for what I expect of myself. Yes, it is a terrible thing to have adults undermine your curiosity. It is terrible to be told your curiosity is actually a manifestation of sin. But each year that I am an adult, I owe it to myself to strip away layers of ignorance and the shame that I felt went with it. There is wonder in being able to experience something for the first time. Most people lose that as children, I hear. I refuse to lose my wonder. I just read a passage Shakespeare wrote for the first time this month, after all. It was wonderful.
My rapist had listened to me. I had warned him I was thinking of telling on him. I was getting tired of being his rag doll. He explained very gently that no one would believe me, or if they did they would tell me it was my fault. He decided to demonstrate this. He was very sensitive this way.
He brought me to the pastor’s office on the big church campus. There were two men inside the office. The pastor, who I didn’t know, and a blond blind man, who I didn’t know. Then there was a rapist. And then there was me. Three adult men in a locked office, and a minor girl. Me. It’s good to know a room’s dynamics.
My rapist had big blue eyes that he filled with the most convincing tears. He cried about how I was making him sin. I was causing him to stray from the path, and he had raped and sodomized me, and blah blah blah cry whine poor him. I sat there silently. I mean, what a show! What should I say? Adult me wants to reach back in time and say fuck you to all the men in the room, dial 911 to report some rapes, and get child me out of there. But, alas, I had been programmed to be polite. Be nice. And I actually kind of felt sorry for my rapist at the time. I mean, he was crying! He was apologizing, kind of! Not really, but in a way!
After he was done sniveling, and was passed the tissues, all eyes turned to me. The Jezebel. They wanted me to agree to forgive this whole unfortunate event, to pray with all of them. The blind man offered that he used to be angry at god, like he could tell I was, but now he wasn’t! So see? It would be in everyone’s best interest for me to comply. Forgive and forget, and make nice with my rapist.
When I remained silent, they started to wonder if I was touched by the devil. That was why I was so alluring to this poor, helpless man. They wondered if I might need an exorcism. The rapist had seen me shake when raping me once, after all. What was that all about? Must be Satan (Sadly, I have no demonic powers. It’s epilepsy. Damn.)!
I didn’t want to have an exorcism. Everyone was praying but me, and my eyes were wide open. This was one of the most frightening events in my life. I wanted out of the room. I couldn’t breathe. He had just confessed to doing all this torture and somehow what he had always assured me was right: No matter what, it was my fault. No one would stop him, no one would help me. I was scum. He was holy; he just needed a quick touch up. “Dear Jesus, I totally raped the hell out of this underage girl. You forgive me though, right?” Of course! He was free and clear, his soul pure as a dove. I remain soiled.
His mother told him she had seen demons around me. I had heard of overprotective mothers, but this was ridiculous. What was worse is that this guy believed his mom. He offered to pray for me. Guys- a word of advice: It is a complete mood killer to tell your date that you are praying for her immortal soul.
I actually tried to convince him I was not possessed, which is a sad thing to admit. It seems like something you would not have to do, but, alas… For some of us who grew up in a fundamentalist back ground this is par for the course. It’s eerily similar to the Monty Python skit about the witch. People love killing witches. It doesn’t matter what you do once someone decides they have seen the evil in you, either. Everyone else is dying for some entertainment, so now they see those damn demons too.
Were you physically attractive to someone? You are a witch. Did you dye your hair? Hate to break it to you, but you are a witch. Did you read books about evolution? You invited satan and his evil hosts in, sweetheart, and you are most certainly a witch. Did you eat cheese? Heavy cream sauces? Did you drink caffeine? Did you pierce your ears? Good heavens, gather round, we have ourselves a witch! The prayers were flung at me hot with accusations. They were tawdry, these prayers. I don’t know why I still had the capability of being shocked after everything, but there I was. Shocked into silence, staring at this guy who claimed he loved me. After that point, he treated me with less respect. I can’t believe I must say there was an after that point… I try to give myself a break- I was young, okay?! After all this talk of demons, the guy still claimed he was interested in marriage. At that time, I thought of myself as damaged goods. I was convinced I should take what I could get. One day I burned my back pretty badly on a hot radiator. My sister was spending time with us, and was surprised at how callously he treated my medical needs. She was an awesome sister and shared her concerns with me. I blew her off that day, but it stuck in my mind. Shortly after that, we were in a car accident. As the car spun out of control, my delusions about being a good wife were shattered. I knew if I lived, I did not want to live like this. I could not marry someone who saw evil in me. I could not be expected to confess my bullshit sins to some judgmental preacher. I would never allow myself to be subjected to a Monty Pythonesque mob of witch haters again.
I ended the relationship. No one has accused me of being possessed since. Cross Posted from NLQ Voices
Ryan Bell and the Pursuit of Knowledge
I think the pursuit of knowledge is always beneficial. It doesn’t matter how you came to the decision that it is time to reflect and read about view points different from your own. So what that Ryan Bell is writing a book to document his process? I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to do the same thing. How can I capture the emotion I felt at reading Carl Sagan’s eloquent explanation of the solar system some 14 years later? The feeling when I finally read a book by Richard Dawkins, who gave me science- that world that had been previously denied as the devil’s territory? My heart raced, I sweated, and I felt faint. I felt a weight lift from me. I was not the most important of creatures, one of god’s chosen in the remnant church. I was not about to be tortured, because it was not the end times as taught by the prophet. I no longer was cursed by the sins of my ancestors. I was free of the sin that was put on me as the result of rape. I could listen to secular music, and revel in the beauty of opera; I could dance! I am on one teeny tiny planet, with an atmosphere, and a moon that reflects light. I am an amazingly unlikely outcome of genetics. The world is full of these beautiful moments that I can appreciate because they are not tainted by sin. They are the remarkable outcome of thousands of years of evolution. When I stopped believing in the literal word of the Bible, and the Prophet, my depression became less marked. I came from the religion that Ryan Bell came from. By his choice to live as an atheist even for one year, he is losing everything he built. I’m not sure that most people who are criticizing him understand what that means. He lost his career. The community he loved has disowned him. Unless his family is on the very liberal side, they may disown him too. Seventh Day Adventism is very insular. They believe they are the remnant church, and everything outside of them is worldly. They do their best to avoid anything worldly. You can go your whole life without having to deal with anyone outside the church. They have their own churches, schools, and hospitals. They have their own television network, as well as publishing company because you are discouraged from reading anything that is not the bible or Adventist produced. In one of the towns I lived in, everything closed on Friday night in observation of the Sabbath.
I found out about Ryan Bell because I have a few of my old Adventist friends on facebook. They were talking about him. One of them claimed she could tell he wasn’t a good leader, and questioned his spirituality. If you are not all the way in, as demonstrated with Ryan Bell, you are out. You can not change the church from within for very long. It does not want to be changed. His big sins? He championed LGBTQ and women’s rights.
I am glad he has decided to use his platform to talk about his experiences learning. He has come from a place where even thinking about questioning the status quo is sinful. I think he should be cut some slack. Who knows how he will feel in a year? Maybe he will be a Christian, and maybe he won’t. The point is, he will have been able to ask himself what he believes.