I was raised in a home and a church with certain expectations. Most of the people I grew up with have lived up to those expectations. They’re all good Christians, remaining doctrinally pure and behaviorally righteous. Most of them are married and gearing up to raise the next generation of good Christians, in homes where the father is the leader and the mother is submissive. My peers who have followed this path are the pride of their parents and the future of their church.
I have flouted all of these expectations. I quit attending fundamentalist churches years ago, and quit altogether around the time I graduated college. Although my parents think it’s okay for a single woman to work, they also think a woman’s highest calling is wifehood and motherhood. I’m nowhere near being a wife and I intend never to have children at all. My politics are so far removed from those of my parents that we can barely discourse on the topic due to fundamentally different worldviews. My behavior, as well, is far from the stringent moral standards held up by my former community, although somehow I think I’m still a pretty good person (mysteriously, drinking, going out to bars, and similar behaviors have not turned me into some kind of monster).
But it is clear to me that, however far removed I am from the outcome intended by the key players in my past (my parents and their church), my politics and anti-authoritarian worldview are a direct result of that past.
My parents made the mistake of teaching me to think for myself, to go against the mainstream, to be willing to believe what I know to be right. They homeschooled me partially in order to keep me from conforming to ordinary culture. Then they expected me to accept the exact same conclusions and ideas they themselves had accepted. My church was, for a fundamentalist congregation, quite intellectual. They taught us to look at textual and cultural context and to know (their version of) church history. They taught us to argue for our faith. Then they expected that we would use each of these skills only to defend their particularly narrow viewpoint. I attended a Christian college, where I took classes which taught me how to reason, how to gather evidence, how to think for myself and effectively communicate with others. But that same Christian college naively assumed that its graduates would toe the party line. There were immense cultural pressures from my parents, their church, and my college to conform to a particular point of view, but all of them also gave me the tools to make my own way in the world, to reject conformity and with it the point of view they so desperately demanded I embrace.
At the same time as my parents, their church, and my college gave me the tools I needed to think for myself, they also taught me important lessons about fascism and forced conformity and loyalty to a particular ideology. I saw and I experienced in my own life the terrible consequences of valuing ideology and power structures over people. I learned that unquestioning acceptance of authority often leads to very negative outcomes. I learned that although those in authority demand implicit trust, I cannot implicitly trust them because they almost never truly have my best interests at heart. As I have said before, fundamentalism is simply religious fascism. It didn’t take long for my opposition to religious fascism to translate into the political arena as well. Also, my past taught me the harm of a “we few vs. the rest of the world” mentality. By its nature, conservative Christianity is elitist, claiming an inside track on knowledge and a superiority to unbelievers. I am now utterly opposed to absolute power and I am wary of elitism in whatever form it takes.
So however critical I am of those in my past who attempted to control my life, I must also always be grateful to them. They gave me early experiences which formed my current worldview. They gave me tools with which I was able to break out of the prisons they constructed around me and then build my own life, a life which looks nothing like they want it to but a life which I inhabit very happily.